Snaps from yesteryear

Usually I know all the photos I have, but last night I went straight to an old hard drive after the kids’ bedtime and discovered a folder in which I found some that I’d thought were lost, and which made me smile for sure.

Who knows if it’s the virus or the changing of the season or the downward spiral of our democracy or the dismantling of the post office or the west coast burning or police brutality or what, but I haven’t felt well lately.

These photos served to remind me who I have been and how, in a roundabout way, I got to be who I am, a full-time mom in Juneau, Alaska, doing my best to support my husband and keep my kids happy and safe.

So these photos are from around the time Jacob and I first got together, when we’d just made our way to Istanbul after two months’ traveling in Africa (we first met in Marrakech, Morocco).

I rented a room near Cihangir, a district that would become one of the flash points for the now-famous Gezi Park protests of 2013. I had lived in Istanbul nine years prior, so I had a bit of knowledge of the city but was at this time still getting reacquainted.

There was a feeling of revolution in the air in Istanbul in those days; even though the trees being protected in the park eventually would be razed, there was a lot of love and camaraderie and feeling that the good guys could win.

Drinking wine with Ersin, from whom I’d rented my room, and Belen, who’d come to stay with me while reporting on the protests, on the steps of Cihangir during the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, 2013. Photo by David Hendrix
What some protesters will do to a bus. Tsk tsk tsk. Photo by Belen Fernandez
The best, silliest dinner, in which I first met my future sister-in-law Anya and niece Stella. Budapest 2014, photos by Anya Lily Por.

With Ted and Jake on the way to Kas, southern Turkey, 2014. So grateful Ted and Ice were able to come to Turkey and I could share with them a small portion of what I’d discovered there. Photo by James Konig, aka Ice.
When I started randomly tagging along with journalists on assignment. Neither Jacob nor I remember where this shot of the two of us taken under the viaduct with our friend Chemi was taken, and it was only six years ago! Photo by Ricardo Gines
…and yet somehow I do remember, despite the raki (pictured) talking this gentleman at the camel wrestling dinner in Selcuk, Turkey, out of his honorary scarf… which now adorns Jacob and my bedspread. Photo by Ricardo Gines

COVIDiaries-19: Is this how it begins?

It’s probably been [in Juneau] for awhile, my colleague surmises for the second day in a row, adding that in the U.S. and in Alaska in particular we don’t have enough test kits to know for sure that it is not, and people aren’t being tested for colds.

Sorry, I just got back from China, a man said after he got off the elevator and sneezed. He meant to be funny, but it wasn’t. I now walk the nine flights up, because of the fresh air and because no one is sneezing on me.

I guess I should have ordered extra of everything a week ago, the grocery store manager says with what registers as desperation.  I’m on my lunch break and get a text from Jacob, who is allowed to work from home but can’t get Ansel to nap.

He co-produces the top story on ANN about the U.S./Canada border closure when I get home.  I want to #stayhome, too, of course, and do silly projects with, and protect, my babies, who have been taking turns screaming out in the night.

It’s not serious until the bars in Wisconsin close was my meme-tra last Saturday, joking over corned beef and cabbage… until it happened when WI hit 72 confirmed cases three days later, on Tuesday.

Gardening is not cancelled is my new one. In front of the Capitol, next to the only door in which workers are “allowed,” yellow crocuses stubbornly push their way into the world despite it all, the hardy little bastards.

School daze

It’s late September in southeast Alaska and the tops of the mountains are already covered in snow. I hope it’s only been a day or two that they have been, although it’s very possible they’ve been that way for a week and I’ve only just managed to look up at them.

It took about a month for our co-op nursery group to iron out all of its own kinks, as it does and has been doing since long before I’ve been in charge of it. One “kink” was my realizing Ansel wasn’t quite ready as he still naps at this time, which is how I’m able to sit down for an hour before we pick up Imogen.

Any new thing is hard, especially at three, especially something as structured and multifaceted as preschool. As is usually the case, I wasn’t able to prepare my daughter in advance for all of the changes this would bring, not only for her but for all of us, but I suppose that is how learning takes place: on the fly.

A parent is allowed to come with the new preschooler the first time they spend a whole day there, so I did, and I watched her pretty much sail through meeting the Guinea Pig Stumps, dress-up/play time, group story time, snack time, and outside play time. She was ready. And she had so much fun!

Her first day by herself was her third birthday. We opened presents first thing in the morning, and by the time we headed out the door, first me and the baby, then the birthday girl in her rainbow unicorn headband holding her new kitty from Nana, and finally Nana behind her holding 20 ‘worms and dirt’ birthday treat, Imogen was so keyed up she fell headfirst down our stairs.

Thankfully, I was just the right distance in front of her that she didn’t tumble, and, amazingly, she didn’t get hurt at all save her pride, which is what seems to take the most bumps on the road from toddlerdom to preschool kid, the first of many times in life when you’re not little anymore but not really big yet.

A friend was driving by at that time and sang her a little song, and pretty soon she was telling Miss Mary that they were real worms in her treat, and it was all okay. I’d heard that there could be some ‘backsliding,’ but thought we were good… except suddenly she didn’t want to go.

Our nursery room is right down the hall, and after we left her she followed us there, squeezing real tears out of her eyes. I reminded her our group was for the littles… and now she was a big who got to go in all the other rooms, and reminded her that Mary said she could ask her anything, and somehow it worked.

With Nana the morning of her third birthday.

She started walking away from me, back toward the preschool. She sniffled and looked back. There was no one around, so I told her to run. She did.

Echo Ranch Family Camp 2019

Weather was perfect this weekend for our trip to the end of the road…
…and then a little bit further! Here are Ati and Talia giving (brave!) Immy a lift the last bit of the way to Echo Ranch at high tide.
Ansel’s general demeanor as we signed in. Family camp has been going for thirty years or so and was started when a group of families rented the camp, which is still a Bible camp and Girl Scout camp. 
Breakfast buds. All meals are provided during camp and Echo Ranch staff were very organized and helpful!
All meals are provided and Echo Ranch staff are very organized and helpful.
Imogen’s highlight was the horseback riding. Here she is on Buddy.
Ansel was not so into the riding, but he liked taking in the scene from the arms of his dad.
Our home for two nights, Eagle cabin: seven bunk beds and a wood stove.
Pre-last night bonfire log jumping
Walking out. It was hard at times, but we’re glad we did it… and can’t wait for next year.

 

Our wild wild yard at summer solstice!

Friday night, June, Juneau: Listening to Leo Kottke and taking in the wonder of our yard while babies slumber!

Ginormous ferns and hostas on west side of house
Peeking around the back, (r-l) two of four pink Rhodies, one of two Japanese maples, more ferns and craziness incl. two groups of blue Himalayan poppies

View of backyard from bench outside kitchen door
From halfway up steps to greenhouse. Pond recently filled in and path around east side of house (that’s kitchen window above sink), Gastineau channel

Living room with morning sun
Executive breakfast

RIP our daughter’s first best friend

We lost Alex this week after only having had him eight months, same age Imogen was when we adopted him.

From the beginning he proved himself to be a capable babysitter…

…except he never learned you’re supposed to pretend you were awake the whole time.

Most of the photos in this post are all from the first month or two. I keep thinking about how happy he made all of us, especially her.

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“Gotcha” dayIMG_0747
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First day
Second morning

Jacob liked to say that he acted like a reincarnated old miner, the way he held down our corner of 12th and Irwin. True to form, he managed to carve out a huge space for himself in a very short time. He leaves a huge hole behind.

This is random, but notice the cat-shredded bar stool in the picture below:

…because evidently our grief manifests itself in decorative duct tape and clearance paint.

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Keeping the candles lit for the time being helps a little.
DSCN4699 RIP in kitty heaven.

Women of Foodland IGA, are you Jesus?

On our last trip to the local supermarket, we hit every aisle. Imogen made me laugh growling at the cats and dogs on the bags of pet food and the Charmin bear. Maybe I should get her out more!

In the checkout line, the guy behind me held two large energy drinks in the same hand. While heaving our purchases onto the belt I for some reason felt the need to explain to him that it was a big shopping trip (“Ya know, ya put it off and ya put it off and then one day ya just gotta do it”); he’s like sure lady, whatever.

Our cashier Paul – who a year ago worked the front desk of the Alaskan Hotel where we’d spent our first two nights in town – rung up our purchases almost patiently. Meanwhile, Imogen had kicked off both boots and wouldn’t take her pacifier, which Mr. Energy Drinks pointed out was lying on the floor.

Outside in the parking lot, I propped the cart against our Subaru jalopy when a voice from a couple of spaces complimented my red coat. I smiled and thanked her but carried on with keeping Imogen from erupting like a volcano. I offered her my keys as a distraction and she chucked them between the painted white lines of the parking lot.

Later, when the house and the baby were quiet, I took a moment to remember the first time I had been in Foodland IGA with her. It was almost exactly a year ago, when we’d been brand-new to Juneau – a time for which I have found myself waxing nostalgic of late just for the simple fact that at that time our lives in Juneau hadn’t really begun: the community was an unknown, giving it a sense of unlimited potential.

We were renting a 600-square-foot cabin about a mile outside of town which was as challenging in as many ways as it might have looked attractive in pictures. I’d carried her to her dad’s new workplace KTOO for this red carpet concert (you can see us in the background at 7:42!), and then could not get her back into the carrier for our walk back to the cabin.

It was getting dark when she started crying inconsolably. I’d forgotten fresh diapers so found myself in the baby aisle of Foodland IGA laying her on my coat on the tiled floor only to discover that she was dry. But I’d shed our winter gear which was heaped in a pile. We moved to a bench by the exit, where we wouldn’t be as much of a navigational hazard for other shoppers, to recombobulate. Imogen fell fast asleep in the process.

I sat almost motionless on the bench with her asleep for about a half an hour. It’s not an exaggeration: every person who walked by us at least smiled, some stopped to have a full conversation.

One lady who’d been observing the situation from her checkout line had even come over and talked to me about how every person had stopped. By the time I was done chatting with her I was ready to try putting Imogen in the carrier again, which was easy this time, and we’d left feeling fully warmed – and welcomed.

A year later it’s the same supermarket. We have a car now; not just a baby carrier. I get into the driver’s seat and, Imogen buckled in and quiet, I look over at the lady two parking spaces over. We make eye contact. Only then does she pull away. Was she waiting for me to regain composure?

Maybe it was just a coincidence. Maybe it’s a special place. “My” Foodland.

Then and now.

New mom, new town, #prawnlife

A fisherman was selling spot prawns at the docks and I told Jacob that Imogen and I would go and get some for our dinner that night. He and I had taken her down to Harris Harbor to get shrimp in the spring, so I sort of knew the deal.

On a mission: Squigs’ first trip to the harbor to get shrimp, Spring 2017

She’d dropped her sunglasses into the water that May day, and Jake had hit the dock and scooped them out just before they disappeared from view, eliciting a round of applause (from me, because I’m his biggest cheerleader even though he says I don’t like anyone).

As it would happen on this cold and rainy fall day, Squigs and my walking buddies Erin and Auggie wanted to go for a stroll too, so I suggested we all go down there together to get prawns. Afterward, we all climbed aboard Erin and her partner Chris’ boat to warm up.

As these things sometimes go, NOW I’m pretty sure I know what it was – her not-completely-dry cloth diaper against her skin, compounded by the fact that we were out in the cold and the rain was hitting her face – that made Imogen completely lose it as we were walking back to the Flats from the harbor.

At the time, though, for as much of a frame of reference as I had, I felt like I might as well have never done anything, traveled anywhere, met, loved, or birthed anyone: it took fifteen minutes once back inside, for her to warm up and settle down.

Walking back, I’d pried open her icy, red fingers and closed them again around a piece of bread hastily torn off the loaf I’d bought to go with the shrimp: why do I keep her on this island in the rain? Who the hell do I think I am hoisting her on and off of boats in her stroller? Am I even qualified to do this at all?

But it was another mom lesson, or a bunch of them in one, hard because they are meant to be: use disposables for even short-ish outings outside in winter (check), get a stroller with a rain cover when you live in Juneau and walk everywhere everyday (check)… keep moving on at the pace of life.

Mom on the loose, Vol. II: Richard Thompson show

His beautiful voice, and suddenly it’s 1999: I’m emptying my apron after work at the Trempealeau Hotel and find a “Keep this coupon” on the back of which my friend had written “Eva Cassidy” — I do keep it, for eighteen years.

In April 2017 I go to my dad’s house with the intention of having a look at the gifts from my baby shower that I wasn’t able to take with me the last time I was home.

I am so excited to do this but once there I lie down next to my daughter and text by lamplight the friend still in town who has since moved, and felt so peaceful, but never did go through the stuff.

Imogen asleep at Dad’s house on Omro Rd., Oshkosh, April 2017.

In 2013 one of my favorite poets visited me at my home in Istanbul, and he shouldn’t have been sick even part of one of his days in Turkey, but he was able to come out and walk around the island and eat fish with us.

Man, that is far away now, but I really had pulled the cot in my room on top of the island right up to the radiator and watched the snow fall while worrying about then-boyfriend Jacob in Donetsk, Ukraine;

and Jacob is the husband who not only got me the ticket to this show, but told me to sneak in a beer which I’d scoffed at but which was the right move: no one is going to take a beer from a mom on her first wedding anniversary.

Who knows where the time goes: by Eva Cassidy as I once knew it, by Richard Thompson… every one-syllable word is weighted: sometimes with just a time, sometimes with just a place, sometimes with both,

like my grandparents arriving at our house on Christmas Eve in the eighties, and twenty years later driving my grandma home through town to look at the lights for the last time.

And now I wear her wedding ring on the hand that’s holding an Alaskan beer in a coozie as I write in my journal at a show, but that’s how we become, by little leaps, and by big bounds.

Thirty-six hours in Gustavus, Alaska

Imogen Charlotte turns one year old a week from today! At first I was a little peeved at Jake for setting up a Labor Day trip (albeit a mini one) in between Ted’s visit and Mom’s visit, but I decided (not to just roll with but) to try to get excited about it.

Then I started to pack, and, even though we’d only be gone one night (I have said this many times before) we needed everything – clothes for every type of weather, every electronic and its corresponding cord, e.g.) we would need for a week or more.

Somehow, by 7:15 a.m. we’d started the 4 1/2 hour journey to Gustavus, gateway to Glacier Bay National Park. On the ferry, Imogen enjoyed alternating back and forth between saying “hi” to everyone and speed-crawling toward the bolts on the bottom of the benches, which she liked to lick.

Imogen and Jacob on the ferry from Juneau to Gustavus.

 

In Gustavus we checked into Jan and Ela’s Wild Alaska Inn which I would totally recommend as they and their place are very warm, especially on the rainiest of days (that take a bit of gumption to get out in, I might add).


We did one short trail and tucked in for the night. (Woodstove and cedar-plank salmon.) As it would happen, the next day (today, Tuesday) was gorgeous and after we both finished our work went for more of a proper walk to check out “town.”
And I had been thinking (the whole past year, but especially this month) about Imogen’s birth and the anger and hurt I unfortunately still feel toward my midwife who completely phoned it in, but also about the fact that people can be such hypocrites and phonies,

when a car went by with the sticker that looked like one of those stick-figure families, but it was either a snake or a pile of poop, that said “let that shit go” and I had to smile; it was just about the right amount of toughness and truth.

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Feeding Imogen her supper of sweet potatoes before boarding our seven-seater prop plane for Juneau.
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(On which she got her own seat!)

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Brave beauty

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A round of applause for clearing the mountains… or whatever we have to get over.

Ted/Nina/Stevie epic Juneau stop as seen by Aunt Jame!

Hittin the Flume on the first day! Bad mamma jammas for sure! #timershot
Onto the carrier already the second day…
…and she liked it! #proudaunt
Our new favorite trailmates.
Ted and Nina checking out the basin from just beyond Perseverance trail head.
A rest on Perseverance. #timershot

Cooling off Mama.

Perseverance pulled off without a hitch. Not bad with two under two!
First salmon catch!
King crab @ Pier 49
Throwing a line in at Sheep Creek
Oh no, not another trail! (Actually she slept in the carrier for almost an hour. Total trooper!)
Here we go again: foresty, gnarly, beachy Dupont

Wild blueberry girl

End of the line…
…or just the beginning?! After we left, my brother asked this sweet, awesome girl to marry him! Welcome to the family Christina, thank you for making Ted so happy and for being who you are in general!! Please come back soon!!

Trail baby_Imogen Charlotte at eleven months

On the Treadwell Loop on her 10 month birthday. We’ve definitely learned to make the most of the rainy days in Juneau!
On Perseverance Trail with Dad during Uncle Julian’s visit. Great day!

Checking out the botanical gardens out the road with Mom also during Julian’s visit. Beautiful out there.
Pool party at James’s on an 80 degree summer day! She enjoyed checking out the corn cobs and saying hi to everyone.
Quick stop at Sheep Creek on the way back from the party. Gorgeous evening… summer has come to Juneau!
Beachin’ it end of Dupont Trail, first ride in the new Kelty carrier with Dad! Spectacular!

Back to Perseverance Trail during Grandpa Dusty and Mary’s visit.

…Where there were plenty more salmonberries to be had!

Kinda in awe of Grandpa Dusty’s dip (and little slip) in Gold Creek…
…making sure he was okay…
(He was, and it was another beautiful visit and hike! To many more!!)

 

Two more holidays and two-digit months old: Imogen Charlotte at 10 mos.!!

Taking a rest halfway up Mt. Roberts on Father’s Day
Dad holding Imogen the magic dragon tightly at the top!
Quite the view — we were all impressed!
In the front carry with mom on the tramway down… because sometimes you gotta
A celebratory roll in the grass with hot sauce (sweet potatoes on face, not hot sauce)
And Father’s Day sorta went right into the 4th of July
(we didn’t get nearly as nice a day for that but still caught the parade)…
Watching the Shriners in the little cars
(after-party in Doug got us like)
“Guerilla-style” d-change over the rushing water on the Perseverance Trail
And just trying to take it all in, this beautiful place that we live and get to explore and discover together.
After seeing the salmon
Big girl watching The Last Waltz with us on a rainy day
Ten months!

Three nurseries in nine months (babies are on the move!)

Move-in day: another clean slate *sigh*!
Getting there: mobile from Ted and Christina hung, Matryoska doll curtains made by Mom (Jamie), rocking chair acquired by Dad (Jake)…
Her crib with its homemade (by LeAnn and Nana Debbie) afghans and mattress cover (peeking out)
And… finished! Lamp and changing table acquired, pictures hung, rocking chair repainted…

…and today’s project and the finishing touch except for one knob I need to find for the closet door…

Rain gutter bookshelves!!  Special thanks to Dad Jake for the help in executing this vision!

Let’s not move for a little while… unless something really great comes up. 😉

Our Squigs (Imogen Charlotte) at nine months

Our first visit to the Mendenhall Glacier, on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day brunch at the Sand Bar, a friendly dive with lovely fish and chips
Have a lot of car seat pictures but can’t resist the face
Big girl in the cart going to get stuff for our kitty Alex!
At Auke Rec with Dad
Just another lunch with mom in our cardigans.

Eight months of Imogen Charlotte

Lovely family staying with us occasioned an outing for Jaco and me last evening, which, as it happens when moving from one far away place to another, and being new parents to boot, was just the eighth we’ve both been away from Squigs, who turned eight months old on Friday.

 

She has one tooth and has been waking up in the night in some pain, but we frankly don’t have the chance to go out ever so we took Rick and Heather up on their offer to babysit and drove downtown in the rain.

We chose the correct bar (Alaskan of course), and had no sooner sat down with huge black beers and begun to exchange stories of chasing the legacy of Walter Cronkite (as you do when hanging out with journalists) with Rashah when we get the text that she’s ready for us to come home.

We are really trying hard to be good parents, we don’t hover over her unnecessarily, but Rick and Heather weren’t us and she wanted us, and we sped back home, arguing about which way of two ways to go, and were home in less than ten minutes.

And the next thing everybody knew we were listening to that piano version of “The Wheels on the Bus” in her nursery as she drifted back to cozy town, my coat laying on the ground outside her door.

And I know we’ll have to make decisions about her education, and bigger things than that, but last night was about racing home in the rain to a little girl, polar bear jammies and piano tunes, and having never been as happy about anything else in my life.

PROJECTS Living room curtains i.e. mountain framers

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South facing window

One of the best things about our new place, a south-facing bay window with a view of the mountains, was almost totally obscured by whatever you call these heavy sliding blind things that, even when open, took up more than half of the window.

This is what the living room looked like when we moved in (picture from Zillow) – notice the different size windows

But a blank slate is a blank slate and can always be looked at as an opportunity. I took it upon myself to frame those mountains à la full DIY… and it ended up being fun and worth the effort to make curtains.

Foyer and living room… now with curtains! *Heart eyes*

The 8 feet of PVC ($2.29 each) at the same height on each side mostly give the illusion that the windows are the same size (especially when closed). And those are up there with garment hooks we got at the hardware store, and on little rings with clips (to give the “gathered” effect).

My daughter and my dad with a backdrop of that fabric Jaco picked out and I had to go back and buy more of but it was worth it.
Imogen likes the nice golden glow they give in the morning. Mustard yellow is the way to go for curtains, who knew?

They are lined with queen sheets – I found a new-in-package “used” set of 6 and cut the hems off those, so the curtains are nice and heavy.  Now we just need some furniture!

 

Imogen_Infinitage

When my friend of almost twenty years and fellow rummage- and estate sale aficionado Kristen Dickenson of Infinitage and Poshmark Infinitage told me that she had some vintage baby girl clothes for me, I had a feeling I was in for a treat.

The box from Winona, MN revealed a carefully curated collection of 100% cotton, Made in USA, original Carter’s and Sears baby outfits, bloomers that fit over cloth diapers… let’s just say it’s gonna be a good summer baby clothes-wise.

So without any further ado let us begin the first official baby fashion show of 2017 starring Imogen. First we have a white cotton peasant shirt embroidered with tiny red snowflakes (label below). This shirt is especially good for pulling up over one’s head.

Next we have four sets (button-down shirts with matching leak-proof bloomers), the first and third of which are homemade, the second Carter’s, last Sears. The first (below) is unbelievably soft and I really hope it still fits come Alaskan “summer.”

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#2

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And, last but decidedly not least,

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(It’s tiring being a fashionista!) Thanks a lot Aunt Krissers!!

PROJECTS: baby wear <6 mos.

Wrapped my sewing machine in Jacob’s and my auxiliary coats, packed Imogen’s new stuffed animals around it, shipped it to Juneau in a Rubbermaid, and after channeling my 7th grade Home Ec teacher Mrs. Goode here I am on this side of one baby dress and a couple of Celtic knot turbans! (Interested in these because Imogen’s name is Celtic in origin!)

Mom actually sent me this fabric AND THE PATTERN which she had saved over forty years. With great appreciation I got to work, and must say I love the final product, especially the big bows on the shoulders and thickness of the fabric for this particular dress. (Didn’t get it on her yet – waiting for spring – but here it is with the pattern and hanging in her closet.)

For my second project, I wanted to make a few baby turbans and Celtic headbands I had seen on Pinterest – there are some sweet tutorials if you are also looking for a my-baby-is-asleep-at-bedtime activity. For this one just had to convince Jake to sacrifice a couple of old, soft (well-loved) t-shirts and wa-la! Baby headbands.

Celtic knot headband made from re-purposed t-shirt above; store-bought headband below
Imogen in her new blue and white Celtic knot turban style headband.

Finally (for now), our family is featured backup dancing in this video featuring Marian Call and Laura Zahasky at 7:40. And it’s a good show too!

Coming Into a New Community: Juneau piece by piece

In Istanbul I didn’t see the play “Faust” in Turkish, though it was always one of those stories with which I felt I “ought” to be familiar; “The Bodyguard” was playing when we lived in West Germany but only in German, a language I didn’t have the chance, at thirty-eight, to learn:

when I heard the Perseverance Theatre was going to show “They Don’t Talk Back”, I knew that – yes, even though we had a five month old daughter and didn’t know anyone else in the town to watch her, and probably wouldn’t leave her with anyone that long yet anyway – we’d find a way to go.

She attended a concert in Holland in utero, and we did take her to a comedy show when she was a month old (cramped venue, but Ted and Christina were visiting and we wanted to do stuff) and even ended up on one of the comics’ Twitter feeds, but how we’d do a play with her had us stumped.

First, we thought we’d just go to separate shows – Jake would go Thursday, I’d catch the Sunday matinee – but as he works long hours during the week, the weekend is our time together and that was how we wanted to spend it. A special matinee on Saturday was announced and we got tickets.

Despite leaving over an hour early we still walked into the darkened theater a bit late. Jacob had reserved seats near the door and I was happy to see there was another woman with a tiny baby sitting in the next row. Imogen was sound asleep in her car seat.

When she woke up halfway through the first act in the cozy theater, I simply got her out of her seat and moved her to my lap. She liked the drums and dancing; she seemed to be actually following the lead actress’s monologue… the one thing she didn’t quite understand is that you have to be quiet.

Imogen and me at intermission
Imogen and me at intermission

We think she liked the energy of the play and that is why she started cooing, but at any rate I ended up first standing in the back, and then sitting just outside the theater on a comfy couch for the second act so Imogen could coo without distracting art patrons.

The woman setting up coffee and snacks, and running the theatre, asked Imogen’s name, and when I also mentioned her nickname (Squigs), the woman painted a lovely picture of Imogen being on a talk show someday, divulging her early nickname to chuckles from the crowd.

When Jacob came out with our things, I told him he should stay in and watch, and that we were content to have seen as much as we had, the woman told me that I should come back the next day and catch the second act. I thought this very kind of her and decided to do just that.

At this point you may be wondering what the big deal is about this post: “okay, you went to a play with/without your baby, got it,” but if you’ve ever moved to a new city and/or shared a tiny space with just your husband and baby, you have an idea what is was like to attend a play by yourself.

It took about thirty seconds for me to get completely lost (in the good sense) in the play. A “coming-of-age” story and so much more about a (Native) Tlingit family, a mother who lost a daughter; weather, music: I felt at once a part of my new community, as if it showed itself just to me.

When I left, the woman who’d told me to come back told me she was so glad I had made it (seriously, why did she even care?), and (I realized after I got into the car how much I meant what) I said, “I can’t imagine if I hadn’t.” Then, she said, “your daughter is precious.”

Thank you Perseverance Theater and Juneau!

 

A cloth diaper hero is something to be (unless you prefer disposables! You do you!)

Cloth diapering IS as easy as they say, you DO save (quite a bit) of money, and you don’t feel terrible the way you do when you throw away a disposable. Some people even like the way they look and that they become softer and more absorbent with each wash.

When I was doing my research I couldn’t believe all of the options (and how much people had to say about them!) so in an attempt to counterbalance all of that business I’m just going to say what has worked for me and hope it clears it up for someone else.

Before my daughter was born I used Amazon girt cards I was given at my shower and ordered two packages of Newborn size prefolds (about $40 for 12 diapers). After I had her about a month I ordered two more packages of prefolds, this time in Regular size.

In five months I’ve essentially been given four packages (96) prefolds, three All-In-Ones (Mom), and nine covers (three new from Mom, six hand-me-downs from friends). I’ve bought five packages (about 150) disposable diapers, one of which remains unopened.

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Imogen rockin’ BumGenius All-in-One at Goat Rock beach, Sonoma County, Calif.

OsoCozy Unbleached Prefolds seemed the most straightforward, and I appreciated their website, that included pdfs on different kinds of folds. You simply fold them, using an ingenious fastener to keep them on, put a cute cover over them and you’re done.

I was advised to buy two dozen and not to skip the Newborn size: I’m glad I followed this as my daughter weighed 7.9 at birth and was in the Newborn size her first two and a half months. I couldn’t have put bigger ones on her at that time.

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Imogen giving Dad a classic look in a Newborn size (< 10 lbs.) Unbleached OsoCozy Prefold, Snappi fastener…
...and Grovia hybrid shell (cover)
…and Grovia hybrid shell (cover)

With two dozen diapers, you can pretty safely say you will be adding an extra load of laundry every three days. You wash them on hot with a pre-rinse, and an extra rinse afterwards. You don’t need to use a lot of detergent, and you don’t use fabric softener.

Another thing I love is that the more you use these, the softer and more absorbent they become. I dried mine on the line or on the radiators when we lived in Germany but now in Juneau I toss them in the dryer – where there is obviously less advance planning required.

Dad thought they were good for keeping her warm, too!
Dad thought they were good for keeping her warm, too!

As it happened, we made our almost 5,000 mile move from Germany to Alaska right at the time Imogen outgrew her baby diapers, so we used the disposables while we were traveling in December and busted out her Regular sized prefolds once we got to our cabin in Juneau.

I cannot imagine she would be a fan of these photos, but her proud mommy posts them regardless with so much love…

Imogen in a Regular size (15 - 30 lb.) Unbleached OsoCozy Prefold, Snappi fastener...
Imogen in a Regular size (15 – 30 lb.) Unbleached OsoCozy Prefold, Snappi fastener…
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And the same size Grovia cover (just let out a bit)!

So there you have it, my journey thus far with cloth diapering… I am pleased as punch with this decision and my DH is on board as well… he calls it “diaper origami” when I fold her diaper but he actually does just fine.

At the beginning I was very overwhelmed, as I said… there are so many different kinds, so much of everything… I hope this helps someone. If anyone has a question please ask! I leave you with another picture of our sweet girl being changed in the back of a car…

Imogen in mittens, hat, and Mother-ease Air Flow Cover, Lena Beach, Juneau, Alaska

The bluff charge and its implication: first month in AK

Rain and sleet this week have been fairly legitimate reasons for not going stomping around in the woods, and the week before that I did go out there and get my “bearings:” while there were moments I enjoyed (getting a feel for the downtown area, e.g.) I’d say I thought about bears roughly 80% of the time.

My husband can no longer hide his exasperation on the topic: we spent the first several nights in the cabin after the girl was asleep discussing, again (we’ve been on the topic since Germany) what to do if you see a bear (“Hey, Bear! Get outta here!”) and stand your ground, and what not to do (run).

That said, the phrase “bluff charge” will not leave my brain. “You will never feel more alive,” my husband said (as when you stand your ground to a bear that is bluff charging you); I feel quite dim panicking about it after electing to move to a cabin in the woods in Alaska with my baby daughter who I don’t let out of my sight when I use the bathroom.

Our cabin on the edge of Tongass National Forest in Juneau
Our cabin on the edge of Tongass National Forest in Juneau

Now, while bears are an actual fear because they can be quite unpredictable, and they should always be given their space (even if you couldn’t help not giving them their space because you didn’t know they were there), it occurs to me that “bear” could be a metaphor of all of the things in the world from which I cannot protect her.

When I walked past riot police in Istanbul I would get that throat-constricting fear based also on being caught in the middle of an unpredictable situation, but actually we never know what is going to happen, and yet I know that we’re safer here than so many other places. No one is attacking anyone in Juneau; its politics are within my realm of understanding.

Having turned in before 10 pm on NYE, we were among the first ones up for breakfast on New Year’s Day, our second day in town. At the cafe we found, the waitress got down right in her face and complimented Imogen’s eyes. Even more awesomely, a lady at the next table offered to hold her while Jacob and I scarfed down our eggs. We let her.

With Imogen on New Year's Eve
New Year’s Eve

I like watching our daughter look to the tops of the trees when we go for walks, and see along with her the way the mountains all around us turn pink at sunset. (Mostly-) imagined threats aren’t nearly big enough to cause these things to crash down anyway, new mom. Unless you wanna talk about avalanches.

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New Year’s Day

Road Baby: Imogen Charlotte at 4 mos.

We did quite a bit of traveling around in Imogen’s fourth month: San Francisco to O’Hare to Oshkosh; back to O’Hare, to Cabo San Lucas and Todos Santos, and back to Cabo; back to San Francisco, to Petaluma and all over West (Sonoma) County; finally, to Juneau (where we are now).

We got to Chicago just before the storm
We landed in Chicago just before the storm
Waiting at the gate at O'Hare for morning flight to Cabo
After four nights in WI, waiting at O’Hare for a morning flight to Cabo San Lucas

Jessica and Nick were lovely hosts and it was a thrill to see their beautiful place Casa Real take shape before our eyes. Jess has an eye for design, and has assured us that the best is yet to come; if kerosene lamps and piping hot tamales are your thing, you’d believe her, too.

Being held by Jess at Casa Real at the end of a long travel day.
Imogen and Jess (pictured headless – sorry) at Casa Real at the end of a long travel day.

Our first morning in Todos Santos we headed for Las Palmas, a beach 20 mins. from Nick & Jess’s… you’ll just have to trust me that there were waves that were exciting without being scary, blue sky, warm sand and all the other lovely earthy beach-y things… because all I see is

Las Palmas ready
Las Palmas ready!

and

Après beach dress after having killed it at Las Palmas.
Après beach: killed it

and

(Killing it)
(Killing it)

and (last but not least)

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(sandy baby toes)

It was our first family vacation, and while at times I questioned my own sanity trucking her around all over hell, Imogen liked the warmth, the sound of the waves, and her Grandpa Dusty’s long stories. I think she had the best time of all of us!

R & R with Mom
R & R with Mom our penultimate day in Todos Santos

We finally made it to Juneau the early morning hours of the last day of the year. Had a ‘soft landing’ at The Alaskan Hotel and Bar , and then worked on getting our cabin set up. I’ll post more pictures of the cabin soon – it is a beautiful place for our first place here in Juneau.

Our last two boxes at the top of our steps
Our last two boxes at the top of our cabin steps. Phew!
Now in Juneau we are making real progress at tummy time
In our cabin, and back on a schedule, we are making real progress at tummy time!
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It’s a good place to grow. (Even if it’s not… she’s growing!)
"It's all good:" we are enjoying every bit of it.
“It’s all good:” we are enjoying every minute of it. #motherdaughterselfie

Please purchase my poetry chapbook!

Hello friends,

My second chapbook, a collaboration of poems by me and paintings by my dear friend and graduate school colleague Susan Solomon, has been made available here through Red Bird Press.

It is entitled Catalpa after the tree and the title poem. For the rest, you’ll just have to see for yourself!

It would mean a lot to us if you would support our project by buying our book and/or sharing this link.

Also, please let me and/or Susan know what you think!

Lots of love,

Jamie

Cover
Cover

My daughter’s Christmas gift to me

Have you ever been on a flight in which an ordinary passenger made an announcement? I felt like standing up and telling everyone within earshot that it was my 3.5 month-old daughter’s fifth flight; holding her up in her tiger suit for everyone to see (I didn’t do this).

Imogen arrived at the Cabo San Lucas airport in her sea-green layered-lace onesie (Aunt Jenny) with sand still stuck to her, but I’d fed her (in the 4 Runner while Jaco and Jess got us burritos) and changed her (on the front seat), so she was fine through the check-in counter, security, and Jaco and my celebratory Pacificos.

Our flight ended up being delayed an hour and a half, during which time they changed our gate twice. At the first gate her dad bounced her over to Duty Free, and at the second gate she slept in her car seat until it was almost time to board at which time we swapped out her onesie for her flying tiger suit (Grandpa Jim).

Second gate change: back to the first gate. Thanks United!
Second gate change: back to the first gate. Thanks United!
Frequent flyers: finally boarding for SFO
Frequent flyers: finally boarding for SF
Wing of the plane section: the sky somewhere around Tijuana
Wing of the plane section: the sky somewhere around Tijuana

On the plane she sat on my lap, fell asleep in her dad’s arms and on the seat between us, hardly cried at all, even as she was rubbing her ears on the bumpy descent, and not at all when we found out we’d also be waiting an extra 35 minutes on the tarmac before ‘deplaning.’

Her dad took her (‘baby tiger coming through’) and we were up and outta there (not a peep), through passport control, baggage claim, back into her car seat, meeting Dusty and Mary, into another 4 Runner, and out of the parking garage, where she was laughing with me,

and then fell asleep again while we accidentally exited into the city, and she made it all the way back to Petaluma without a meltdown, and then I fed her, and we gave her a bath, and put clean clothes on her… and left her on a bed covered in laundry with the light on, for everyone to see and play with, and went to eat a salad,

…at which time she started crying, hysterically, because I’d kept her up too late, and she’d held it together through *another* international flight with three hours of driving and three hours of waiting besides, and she’d had it, and she’d needed me to put her to bed and turn the light off, and I hadn’t held up my end of the bargain

but she taught me a lesson, and I turned the light off and put a heavy soft blanket on her, and thanked her for teaching it to me, but she was already asleep.

California and Imogen (almost) 3 mos.

Last days on Romerstrasse
Last days on Romerstrasse
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First flight: Frankfurt to Seattle

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Seattle to Santa Rosa prop plane
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Lovely birthday girl and sister in law Anya Lily
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Waking up stateside in the arms of her Aunt!
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Millie and Stella getting to know their new cousin

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Good socks for coffee @ Jaen's
Good socks for coffee @ Grandma Jaen’s
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Fireside with Grandpa Dusty

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Bodega Head with handsome Dad: 1st ocean!
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(Sorry for waking you up. But it is the ocean…)
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1st Christmas tree: thanks Tara!!
Amazing carved tree in Ragle Park, Sebastopol
Amazing carved tree in Ragle Park, Sebastopol

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Glitterati party w/ Mom. Off to the Midwest!

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Second month

Imogen Charlotte is two months old today! Hanging out and getting bigger was punctuated this month by a nice visit from her Uncle Ted and Christina.

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Reading news with Dad

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We’ve been keeping up our habit of going for long walks along the Rhine and trying to soak it all in since we’re out of here in less than three weeks, bound for Alaska via California and some travels in between.

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Halloween was Imogen’s first official holiday. She wore her kitty suit most of the week and spent the night listening to Michael Jackson and watching the jack-o-lanterns.

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Her parents never knew they could love her this much and can’t wait to introduce her to the rest of her family.

Love from Bonn!

J, J & I

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They arrived via train from Paris on October 24…

…and Imogen was pretty much in awe of her Uncle Ted from the start.

Ted and Imogen at our apartment on Romerstrasse, Bonn, Germany, October 2016.
Ted and Imogen at our apartment on Romerstrasse, Bonn, Germany, October 2016.

Then we walked down by the river and she fell asleep…

Ted, Imogen, and Nina on the bike path in Bonn.
Ted, Imogen, and Nina on the bike path in Bonn.

…allowing us to enjoy the happiest of hours.

...allowing us to enjoy in full the happiest of hours.

Sunset on the Rhine
Sunset on the Rhine

A few days later we returned to the site of (the beginning of) Imogen’s birth, Drachenfels Hill in Konigswinter…

Ted and Nina ready to slay some dragons (i.e., climb the hill)!
Ted and Nina ready to slay some dragons (i.e., climb the hill)!

…which she also enjoyed from the arms of her Uncle Ted.

Ted and Imogen almost to the top of Drachenfels Hill, Konigswinter.
Ted and Imogen almost to the top of Drachenfels Hill, Konigswinter.
From the lookout just below Drachenfels ruin.
From the lookout just below Drachenfels ruin.

And, making it back down, we decide we must celebrate again. As you do.

Nina, Ted, Imogen and I at Im Tubak, our favorite pub in Konigswinter.
Nina, Ted, Imogen and I at Im Tubak, our favorite pub in Konigswinter. (Photo Jaco Rizla)

First month

Imogen is one month old tomorrow and of course I can’t believe it: in her first month she gained over 1 lb. (7.9 to 9.3), but this is just a statistic.

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Getting weighed

Her eyes are deep and blue. We tell everyone how good she is and mean it. We take her to a restaurant, a bar, our workplace, and on a long boat ride.

Napping with Dad
Napping with Dad

Her Grandma Debbie and Louie come to see her and her grandma holds her every night. She also meets Frederik and Holly, Daniel, Heather, Bailey, Kooch and Victor.

With Grandma
With Grandma
Testing the waters with Frederik
Testing the waters with Frederik

She outgrows her vintage jammies from the hospital, four pairs of socks, one pair of booties, and her Hammer pants with the eyelet around the feet.

In Hammer pants
In Hammer pants

She likes music. I’m not sure if she likes being called Beauty, or Noodle.

I already can’t imagine life without her, and I don’t mind the association of that beautiful verb and her name.

Barhopping with Mom
Barhopping with Mom
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Passport photo outtake

Imogen’s birth story

My water broke around 2 p.m. Sunday, September 11, 2016, on a beautiful fall day about 100 yards from the top of Drachenfels, a hill that was formed by rising magma that could not break through to the surface, but cooled and became solid underneath.

I called my midwife Heike to let her know, and Jacob and I excitedly began the stomp down. Something was finally happening with the baby we’d been waiting to meet since January! I felt completely ready for whatever was going to come our way.

Regular contractions started about 5 p.m., an hour after we’d made it back to our apartment in Bonn from Konigswinter on the tram: they’d been between five and six minutes apart for the duration of one episode of The Wire.

The midwife came by and was able to determine I was 3.5 centimeters dilated. As we’d discussed, this was probably too soon to go to our Geburtshaus (aka birth center) so she went home to wait and I spent the next phase in the shower, Jacob holding the wand to my lower back. By 9 p.m. we were ready, and I showed up at the Geburtshaus at 7.5 centimeters.

Continued “rushing” all night, Jacob breathing with me through every one, kissing me, giving the kind of support I’d read about in my books. Eight hours later, at 5 a.m., I was 9.5 cm dilated, and Imogen’s head was down in my pelvis as it had been for months, but she wasn’t positioned in such a way that would allow for any descent, much less a smooth descent, down the birth canal.

It was suggested that we lie down and take a rest: another midwife would be in in the (later) morning and the best way to proceed would be decided upon her arrival. The contractions continued through this “rest” (nodding off while Jacob spooned me and waking up every three minutes with a contaction/anxiety/fatigue cocktail).

Christiane showed up over an hour later and confirmed the fact that the baby was stuck in my pelvis and that my contractions evidently weren’t powerful enough to bring her down. It was during this confirmation I did my one push.

We tried different positions, I was given an enema, Jacob and I went outside for a walk (that was interesting). When I quite literally couldn’t do anything anymore, Jacob convinced Heike that we needed to lie down again. Christiane, the other midwife, seemed to have vanished into thin air.

Heike hooked me up to the fetal heartbeat monitor in my bed and told me that another midwife would be coming to fill in for her because she was so tired. I understood the tiredness and thanked her for her help but could not believe she was leaving us at that particular moment, two first-time parents sweating it out in a bed.

Another contraction woke me up and I saw my my baby’s heartbeat, which had never once dropped below 120 in nine months of doctor appointments, at just 39. Just then the midwife Barbara showed up and essentially played cleanup crew: called the university hospital to tell them we were on our way, asked Jacob to gather our things,

helped me into the bathroom as my bladder had been too full for me to make it there on my own, which was a big part of the problem, I’d find out upon catheterization (read: instant relief) at the hospital, and then into her own car, drove us to the hospital, almost got broadsided on the way, debriefed our new team who induced me to try to establish lost regularity of contractions, which didn’t work.

It was explained to me that since Imogen’s water had broken now close to 24 hours prior, there was a high risk of infection for us both. Her heartbeat was up at this point, but irregular. Keeping my eye on the heartbeat monitor, I decided to get on all fours and try to regulate my own contractions. A 20-something nurse put my hair in a bun and applied cold cloths to my neck.

A female Asian doctor came in and explained the head thing again. Jacob asked if we could have a few minutes to discuss what I of course already knew, that they were recommending a C-section. Another doctor who looked fresh from the set of the “L” Word came in to “assess the situation,” which she told me the next day they commonly refer to as “oh fuck what do we do now” slash “come with us if you want to live.”

From slice to baby takes about a minute, I am told. I am given something to stop the contractions, put into a gown and green shower cap. They try to take my necklace off, a gift from my best friend Jenny which has Imogen’s name and Jacob and my wedding date on it, but can’t untangle it fast enough and leave it.

I am wheeled in bed to the “theater,” everyone seeming familiar with the word in this context but me, made to switch beds, given an ineffective epidural while in the midst of a contraction. I can remember being polite and trying to make small talk even in this situation and thinking at least the theater was cooler than any of the other rooms (I was getting too hot, I was told later) – I am such an optimistic person.

I thought of my baby and my husband the whole time. I remember Jacob yelling at the anesthesiologist and telling me that the Caesarean was named after Julius Caesar, a fact we learned later was actually not true.

Imogen Charlotte Resneck was born Monday, September 12, 2016, at 5:04 pm after about 24 hours of labor. I'll never forget the face of the pediatrician who handed her to me. My first thought was simply "that's her." 
Imogen Charlotte Resneck was born Monday, September 12, 2016, at 5:04 pm after 24 hours of labor. When the pediatrician handed her to me my first thought was simply “that’s her.”

Jake says I died and came back to life. It was worth it for who was waiting for me at the hospital in Bonn.

Post script Sept. 12, 2016 5:04 pm – Sept. 13, 2016 5:04 pm (first 24 hours of Imogen’s life)

You were brought to me in a yellow towel. You looked very familiar. I was only able to glance at you because I was dealing with the pain of them rearranging my insides.

The doctor brought you back after having checked you out and laid you on my left shoulder. I tried to focus on you but kept feeling like I was going to knock you onto the floor – I couldn’t be still because of their rummaging around inside me.

Your dad took you and left when they finally put me under (they made him or he would’ve stayed). On his way out they said congratulations to him while they were, as he put it, elbow deep in my gore. Thanks, he replied, not looking at them.

The next thing I knew I was being wheeled back into the room where you and dad were waiting. He told you a little bit about what to expect from the world during that time. This was about the first hour. For the next couple of hours doctors paraded in and out explaining things. Jacob, being Jacob, listened carefully to it all.

There was no family room available that night so dad had to go back to our apartment on the bus. Your head was a bit misshapen from ramming it against my pelvis and your right eye still had some opening to do, but you nursed like a pro and promptly turned yourself a different color.

They wheeled me into another room and I fell asleep with you in my bed in vintage jammies.
They wheeled me into another room and I fell asleep with you in my bed in vintage jammies.

Your dad rode his bike back in the morning with a bunny for you. You didn’t cry until that afternoon. When you did cry, another midwife said it could be because your first memory (your birth) was not such a nice one. I figure I have the next 18 years to the rest of my life to improve upon it.

Proud mommy (despite super puffy belly!)
Proud mommy despite super puffy belly!

Imogen Charlotte’s nursery

The main things I focused on getting were a rocking chair (secondhand from IKEA), a STICK (ground scored from the nature preserve by our house while walking), and (not pictured – yet) a sheepskin rug (scoured the Internet for this and eventually found one sold by Polish farmers at the flohmarkt in Bonn).

This is what her nursery looked like in June when we got home from the baby shower with all her beautiful new things. Now for the fun part: setting them all up!
This is what her nursery looked like in June when we got home from the baby shower with all her beautiful new things. Now for the fun part: setting them all up!
"The friends" (Installment I) from (L-R) Rick and Heather, Laura Jean, Irie and Fern, and Aunt Sara
A few of our new friends: Musical lamb from Rick and Heather, Baby elephant from Laura Jean, Irie and Fern, and bunny crocheted by Aunt Sara
Fun (again Pinterest-inspired) name bunting made with cute shower cards
Name bunting made with cute shower cards and orchid LEAVES ONLY (this is in June)…
Dresser/changing table with all clothes and blankets washed line dried and ready to go.
Dresser/changing table with all clothes and blankets washed, line dried, and ready to go.
Euro store over-the-door shoe and hat rack: check!
Euro over-the-door shoe and hat rack: check!
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Finished! Bassinet mattress cover and curtains courtesy of mom!  
Last but not least, this orchid was given to me by a woman who told me it never flowered. But I put it in the nursery and thought I noticed something one day...
Last but not least, this orchid was given to me by a woman who told me it never flowered. But I put it in the nursery and thought I noticed something one day…

You only turn 38 once!

Started out the sunny summer day in our new happy place, a watering hole on the Zieg, a Rhein tributary!
Started out the sunny summer day in our new happy place, a watering hole on the Sieg, a Rhein tributary!
After swimming, a Wundertüte (literally "wonderful bag") was in order!
After swimming, the much-anticipated Wundertüte (literally “wonderful bag”) at our local gelateria was in order.
Present time and he liked the shirt I got him, phew, yay!
Present time and he liked the shirt I got him, phew, yay!
Rushed the lattice on my strawberry pie but it turned out great and I can't wait to try it again!
Rushed the lattice on my strawberry pie but it turned out great and I can’t wait to try it again!
Lovely guy on the walk back from our fish dinner at a Spanish-Portugese restaurant on the river...
My lovely guy pauses for a photo op on the walk back from our fish dinner at a Spanish-Portugese restaurant on the river…
...and ended the day with a lil' garden party. Happy birthday Jake!!  'Enjoy the little things in life because one day you`ll look back and realize they were the big things.' -Vonnegut
…and we ended the day with pie in the garden with our sweet neighbors.

‘Enjoy the little things in life because one day you`ll look back and realize they were the big things.’ -Vonnegut

Happy birthday Jake!!

 

Baltic/East Prussian Honeymoon III: Home Sweet Home

Hi everybody! We got home almost a week ago and had a lot to do in terms of getting back on track here in Bonn so it took me a minute to finish my honeymoon posts but here are a few pictures from Lithuania, Latvia and our journey back to Germany by Stena ferry.

It was a great trip and I’m super glad we did it – I reached my fortieth country (Latvia, which was a new one for Jaco too) and have some beautiful new memories to cherish. As is often the case, it did feel good to get home to our *other* clothes and our own bed.

Thank you for following along on the last (big) journey before our little girl arrives in September! It was a special trip for us and it means a lot to have your love and support here on our East Prussian/Baltic Honey-/Babymoon 2.0…and beyond!

See ya soon,

Jame

Of course I am smiling on the ferry to Klaipeda; he gave me the raincoat and the coffee!
Of course I am smiling on the ferry to Klaipeda; he gave me his raincoat and got me coffee! (“Wow, your wife is so prepared!”)
This guy loves his Lithuanian dumplings!
This guy loves his Lithuanian dumplings! Klaipeda, Lithuania.
The one picture I took in Riga - my guy and a huge Soviet building.
The one picture I took in Riga – the guy and a Soviet building. Fun fact: I got stung by a bee I startled when I crouched down to get the whole building in the frame!
Ventspils
Took this along the harbor near “Horkplatz” where I got into the tornado warning position to be sick in Ventspils…I was in an altered state when I took it but I’d like to see this as a painting!
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After 1 am, still not dark, we decided to get up and go find the music we could hear from our little pension. It wasn’t hard to find, the band was good and there was a bonfire, and many wreathed people. Happy solstice Ventspils, Latvia, and world!
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Boarding our 20-hour ferry back to Travemunde/Lubeck, where we’d catch the train to Bonn via Hamburg. Fun to walk past all the cars on the way in…not so fun when they all got to peel out before us after we’d docked.
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“Meet ya on the heli-pad for a dance:” hands-down my favorite moment.
30 wks en route from Ventspils to Travemunde
Couldn’t resist posting 30-week bumpdate from the ship…let’s do this! #stoked #maternitystockings #babyonboard

Baltic/East Prussian Honeymoon II: Curonian Overland

Spent our first full morning on the Spit walking through honeysuckle-smelling pine forests which reminded me of the grasshoppers bounding around my great-grandmother’s farm in Princeton, Wisconsin.

Lunched on canned curry and rice left over from our dinner the night before and, after a quick snooze at the end of which a baby came and sat down by us, borrowed bicycles and rode the same paths we had walked earlier to a place to watch the sea that made me realize why the Curonian Spit is a sought-after destination.

Found fish dinners (I had perch, Jake had squid) and desserts (me – black currant sorbet and creme brulee ice cream; Jake cold borscht with sour cream) that matched.

Took this un-selfie-like selfie after fixing his bike on the Spit near Leneskoy.
Took this un-selfie-like selfie after fixing his bike on the Spit near Lesnoy.
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Third trimester-ing outside the fish restaurant in Lesnoy on the Curonian Spit.

Twenty-five minutes by bus up the Spit, a kind of paradise awaited us in Rybachy: we found a beautifully restored German guesthouse (read: at least twelve foot high ceilings) in quiet, serene surroundings full of irises, peonies and daisies – a welcome change indeed after the first place which had a few issues with overcrowding and plumbing.

Peonies pretty much the same in Rybachy as anywhere; worth mentioning.
Peonies pretty much the same in Rybachy as anywhere; worth mentioning.

After a picnic lunch (sardines and bread) on the “quiet” side of the Spit (the ocean and bay sides are only about two miles apart for the Spit’s whole ninety miles) we went out for dinner, called both our moms, and organized the next two days: sea, Lithuania.

Digs in Rybachy
Digs in Rybachy.

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Timer photo after a sardine-and-bread lunch on the chill side of the Spit.

On our full day in Rybachy we read for about an hour and a half after having breakfast outside and then went to the beach and lounged in the dunes.

Believe it or not before lounging we ate sardines and bread again! I love this lunch and hold it dear partly because when I first met this husband of mine and we were traveling by bus through Mali which would stop for 10 – 15 minutes, I would run off to find a bathroom and return to find him just out of the exhaust fumes of the bus but close enough we’d be able to catch it if it tried to leave us, with this snack.

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Dune loungin’ (aka ‘sunnin’ the bump’) in Rybachy, R.F.

We are so far north that the sun rises before four (which is what time I have been waking up), but I was still sleeping at six when he woke me up to go stand on the side of the road and wait for someone driving to Lithuania (buses only cross that border in the evening).

No sooner had I arranged a nice seat on the side of the road when, in succession appeared Jake with a piece of cardboard he’d fished out of the dumpster on which he’d penned “LT” (Lithuania) and – in a black 2012 Audi with double sunroofs – Damjan, who “likes to do nice things for people if he can” (or so he told us after waiting for us to get questioned at the border again on the way out).

Lithuania is quite a bit different feeling than Russia – in Nida, we are back on the euro, for one thing, so everything is more expensive, there are a lot more tourists, and everything is much easier, but we also aren’t looked upon with the same general bemusement the way we were in Russia.

Jake did help me see that one can appreciate visiting/holidaying/living in an EU country in a different way after spending some time in Russia: besides maybe China, it (Russia) is the one place outside the US’ sphere of influence; it makes one recognize how one should answer for oneself should there be no ‘state’ protection (to be fair, how much is there anyway?).

Happy Learningmoon from Pervalka, Lithuania!

 

 

Baltic/East Prussian Honeymoon I: Bonn –> Kaliningrad, Russian Federation

I know, ‘how lame to update your blog while on your honeymoon,’ but I’d like to remind you that I am already pregnant (28 weeks today, as a matter of fact), and the end of a travel day plus Jake not needing/wanting his laptop equals the time is right for my first post!

We left Bonn about 8 am for Berlin where we caught the train to Gdańsk, Poland. I only slept from about 1 am to 5 am the night before but Jake didn’t sleep at all so this is what the majority of our 11-hour train journey looked like to the casual observer:

On the train from Berlin to Gdańsk
On the train from Berlin to Gdańsk

We were able to find our place just fine, went out for some mushroom and cabbage pierogies (me; Jake went with ‘Gdańsk guinea fowl’ which was actually chicken) and after checking out the town square and getting some stuff for breakfast (and pistachio ice cream) climbed into a bathtub surrounded by candles.

The next day after checking out a pretty cool ship we found a really beautiful restaurant where I ordered trout and Jake was just in general really excited.

A happy husband awaiting his herring in Gdańsk
Happy husband awaiting his herring in Gdańsk

Our next destination after Gdańsk was Kaliningrad which was just about 120 km away, but we’d heard it might take a bit longer at the Polish-Russian border which turned out to be true in our case.

Our driver was gruff but patient and we were able to get a walk to the old part of the city in before it got dark, after which time we lit all the tea lights again and watched the Tetris documentary The Ecstasy of Order we’d been saving for Russia.

View from our digs in Kaliningrad.
View from our digs in Kaliningrad.

After breakfast we walked to an aquarium/submarine museum which was pretty fun, then an art cafe Jake had read about, and then an art/history of Kaliningrad museum.

After all of that walking my city dogs were barking and we got Sushi Love for the second night in a row, watched Silicon Valley and ‘chillaxed’ (even though I hate that word and all made up words).

Now we find ourselves in the Curonian Spit, just an hour away from Kaliningrad but right on the Baltic Sea!  Let’s see what happens…

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Being seven months pregnant should not prohibit one from crawling around Soviet submarines on her honeymoon. -Jame
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I’m so happy to have found this cherry picker.

Wedding – II

Tomorrow will be a week since our beautiful courthouse wedding and reception at Dad’s. We are still processing everything that’s happened, but we do realize how lucky we are for all of the help from our families and friends that day and leading up to it.  Here are some of my favorite shots of our reception!

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Wedding cake by Barb McClain. Program by Ted. Lilacs picked at Dad’s. Mason jars donated by Chuck Hanson and decorated by Sara, Mom, and me. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
Heels for moccasins, suit for linen. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
In true Wisconsin style, brats and beer underway immediately upon arrival. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
In true Wisconsin style, brats and beer underway immediately upon arrival. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
Seed packets by Mom and Kay, sign pained by Nina. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
Seed packets by Mom and Kay, sign painted by Nina. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
Chris and Marina man the grill while Sara supervises. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
Moving toward cake and coffee time. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
Moving toward cake and coffee time. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
Understandably nervous to cut into this work of art. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
And the band begins, right on time. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
And the band begins, right on time. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
I can't believe it's over and I got him. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
I can’t believe it’s over and I got him. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
My beautiful niece Stevie Jean, named after our Grandma Jean who was (is) always there in spirit. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
My beautiful niece Stevie Jean, after Grandma Jean. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
Meeting of families. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
Meeting of families. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
Thanks for saving your dress for me, Mom. Photo credit Ty F. Webster. Photobomb Scott Delfosse.
And the band played... Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
And the band played… Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
…And played. It could not have been a better day. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.

Wedding – I

Tomorrow will be a week since our beautiful courthouse wedding and reception at Dad’s. We are still processing everything that’s happened, but we do realize how lucky we are for all of the help from our families and friends that day and leading up to it.  Here are some of my favorite shots of our decor and the courthouse.

Burnin’ outta Karfiguela Falls, Burkina Faso, at Dad’s, courtesy of my brother Ted. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
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And then Ted surprised me with another montage we hung on the milk house. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
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Our delicious three-tiered lemon wedding cake with french vanilla frosting was made by Barb McClain. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
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Another of Ted’s banners, this one of Jaco and me in a cheeky embrace in front of the Istanbul Gezi Park riot police, let our guests know (for sure) they were in the right place. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
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Jaco and Dad pose for a quick snap before Dad drives the gents to the courthouse in the 1955 Buick. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
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Almost 50 friends and family came from seven US states and one Canadian province to the Winnebago County Courthouse to watch us tie the knot. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
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Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
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Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
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Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
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Birdseed in the ear! Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
Courthouse crew
Courthouse crew. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.
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Telling my ring bearer/flower girl Lily what a perfect job she did while Julian and Jaco look on. Photo credit Ty F. Webster.

Sardinian Babymoon! Installment II: Porto Alabe –> Dusseldorf

Crawled around in some witches' tombs "Necropolis of Chirisconis" outside Porto Alabe - which date back to the stone age
Crawled around in some witches’ tombs “Necropolis of Chirisconis” outside Porto Alabe
And checked out one of over 7,000 Nuraghe - 3,000 year old towers. Skill in design!
…and checked out one of over 7,000 Nuraghe (3,000 year old towers).
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Guy on the Nuraghe
Getting up close and personal with Cumpultittu Beach near Porto Alabe
Getting up close and personal with Cumpultittu Beach near Porto Alabe
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Beautiful renovated (in 17th century) cathedral in Cagliari, Sardinia’s largest city. Jaco lit a candle for our baby in a church we went to just before this one!
Flying back to Dusseldorf
Flying back to Dusseldorf from Cagliari
...via Rome (thanks for checking out my pictures!!)
…after twenty hours in Rome (just enough time to swing by the Vatican!)

Sardinian Babymoon! Installment I: Bonn –> Porto Alabe

Left Bonn at 4 am for our 10:30 flight to Pisa from Frankfurt. It wasn’t too bad getting up at 2:30 am but after lunching in Pisa and our train to Casciana (3 pm) we had about a 5 km uphill walk to our countryside B & B. It was worth it, though – stunning, quintessentially ‘Italian’ views, good lighting in the room. (There was other good stuff too but those were the highlights.) Worked for awhile and fell asleep to rain on the skylights.

Our first morning after cappucinnos and bruschetta we got a ride into Casciana where we were gonna soak in a thermal bath but were told pregnant women weren’t allowed! Had fun instead picking out stuff for Ted’s birthday and goind for lunch – I got a ‘bianca & verde’ pizza on crust Jaco correctly referred to as a big saltine (which incidentally I’ve wanted and haven’t been able to find.) Jaco had seafood calzone with octopus.

Feeling rested after our second night at the B & B outside Casciana, we left to go back to Pisa and then caught a train to Livorno – where we met our overnight (MOBY) ferry to Sardinia. Was happy we’d booked seats in advance – we were using it as our accommodation that night – as we were able to turn the lights down and stretch out in our own ‘zone’ – being halfway through my first trimester I took advantage of being able to sleep anytime, anywhere.

Our ferry to Olbia from Livorno, a short train ride from Pisa. Flew to Pisa from Frankfurt for 5 euros each!
Our ferry to Olbia from Livorno, a short train ride from Pisa. Flew to Pisa from Frankfurt for 5 euros each – tx Ryanair!

Left our second B & B after a nice Valentine’s Day full of sunshine, walking, gelato, and Cheers.  The next leg of travel entailed train from Olbia to Sassari and Sassari to Alghero, and a bus from Alghero to Bosa, with Bosa being the next destination.  For Valentine’s dinner I had clam spaghetti because it has been looking really good to me (I know preggo mamas aren’t supposed to eat shellfish but I was okay) and Jaco had a steak.

And just because I feel like it here are a few incidental Valentine’s Day deep thoughts by Jame: single life, while fun (albeit not mutually exclusive) ‘heart-lonely;’ something I miss – past (static) childhood; something I don’t miss; grandmother’s house now with pictures of me from 1996; miss people who are gone, don’t miss people who are still here but act gone.

 

Switching trains in Sassari en route to Alghero from Olbia. We didn't take this one, but it was almost 100 years old!
Switching trains in Sassari en route to Alghero from Olbia. We didn’t take this one, but it’s been chuggin’ since the ’30s.
Jacob near the seaside in Alghero. A very defensible city!
Jacob near the seaside in Alghero, a very defensible city.
Bosa was next, a bus ride down the coast from Alghero. The red building on the left is our guesthouse. Good artichoke pizza here...
The red building on the left is our guesthouse in Bosa, a ride down the coast from Alghero . Good artichoke pizza here…
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Bosa
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Bosa

Our guide Antonio picked us up after our stay at the Bosa B & B, took us to the supermarket, and then drove us to his house in Porto Alabe, which was so close to the ocean we could hear it when we were lying in bed at night even with the windows closed. Found a path which led to a four-hour seaside walk to a tower: the view from the top – and from the ‘pill-boxes’ along the way – quite spectacular.

Taken from a 'pill-box' in Porto Alabe outside Bosa, where we'd stay the longest (4 nights).
Taken from a ‘pill-box’ in Porto Alabe outside Bosa, where we’d stay the longest (4 nights).
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Porto Alabe
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Porto Alabe

*2015* End of year highlights *2015*

Mr. Cleo embracing his inner kitten playing with the lights on Christmas Eve.
Mr. Cleo embracing his inner kitten on Christmas Eve,
Ted and Christina receive the baby mobile Sara made for them.
Ted and Christina receiving the mobile from Aunt Sara,
Zuchi "helps" Mom and I tie Jaco's Christmas quilt.
Zuchi “helping” Mom and me tie Jaco’s Christmas quilt,
Presents lit up on Ma's snowy porch.
Presents lit up on Ma’s snowy porch,
Quick trip up to Crivitz New Years' Day
A quick trip up to Crivitz on New Years’ Day

(Me mostly liking BB guns for the photo ops)

My brother Ted and his beautiful new baby daughter Stevie,
My brother Ted and his beautiful new baby daughter Stevie, 
And just the best snowman I've seen in a while.
and the best snowman I’ve seen in a while.

Compulsory Tourism III (Athens – Analysis)

I was staying at a flat in Uskudar, Istanbul when two Syrian flatmates with whom I would become great friends and stay in touch arrived.

When I heard the friend whose story I am about to share was going to take one of the sea-crossing journeys from Turkey to Europe I was less than thrilled with a world that would put someone in this predicament.

But he assured all of us who asked that he would be fine, so we had to believe that.

The situation is terrible, and it doesn’t look to be getting better anytime soon, but my friend is fine, and about  month ago he sent me a forty-page document detailing the whole story of his journey. 

Having read (as we all have) so many “ripple-effect” refugee stories (I talk about this elsewhere on this blog), it was almost calming for me to read a first-hand account. Mostly I feel really happy for my friend that he made it to somewhere he wants to be. 

Please read (and share!) this story written by my friend: the more people who can understand the “refugee crisis” as it affects the whole world, the better.

Jamie Lynn Buehner, December 14, 2015

Καλώς ήρθατε στην Αθήνα

The ferry docks and the boarding process is repeated in reverse order. What a nice feeling to be here at last, especially when you have a good surprise waiting for you…the public transport is free for five days! We board the bus going to the nearest metro station.

I didn’t have any clue about what to do in Athens, but I said to myself that I would follow my intuition and ask the people about the next steps. So when we land on Athenian ground and hear people say they were going to “Amonia Square,” me, Hadikun, Wallow, and a guy called Abdou decide to go along: I ask at the information desk at the metro station. “You mean Omoneia? Yes, it’s this way.”

Helpless migrants everywhere, I am thinking to myself when I hear a female voice speaking in Turkish! Although I was in Turkey only five days ago, it seems like a long time for some reason. I get closer to the source of the voice, and there I see a Turkish woman talking to a Syrian woman (who apparently knew Turkish to a good extent).

The Turkish woman seems very compassionate, asking the Syrian about the journey and other generalities concerning the situation, so I join the conversation because I am curious to know more about this woman. She asks me and the Syrian woman about the other refugees who were around.

While talking, I noticed that she was with a man, who seemed like her husband/boyfriend, and she was translating everything to English for him. It turned out that he is really her husband and he’s Greek, and as he joined the conversation in English, we were already in Omoneia Square, and we had to get off.

The good thing is that Gozde and Panaiwtis (The names of the Turkish woman and her husband as they will tell us later) are also getting off here, and not only that, they are also going to help us find a cheap hotel around the area!

We get off with Gozde and Panaiwtis and a Syrian family of five or six people, and roam the surroundings until we find a hotel for 15 EUR per night! The Turko-Greek couple give us some extra info about the locality, and a contact number to call them if we need anything. What a nice start with nice people, I say to myself: it’s going smoother than I thought!

Anyway, we don’t book in that 15 EUR hotel, preferring to keep walking and looking for extra clues to help us plan our next step. We come across a falafel place with a signboard written in Arabic (“Falafel abu Michel”) and ask the guy where to find cafes or places Syrians sit to discuss the next steps. With a clear Lebanese accent, he shows us a route and we follow it.

We spot a cafe called “Cafe of Omoneia” in Arabic, and in front of it meet Tarek and Ramez, the Damascene guys who were with us in Izmir and on the boat. All of us decided to take a rest for a while. We were missing one phone because Abdou was bankrupt on the road and had to sell his to earn some 30 EUR. We had huge cups of delicious tea.

Afterwards, we stop at another falafel place, and when I talked to the “falafelist” he knows at once that I come from Latakia, as he is from the neighboring city of Jableh. He has been in Greece for 21 years. This conversation gets interrupted because another guy comes in, and everybody starts talking about how to reach Macedonia.

The new guy advises everyone to go to Thessaloniki as soon as possible, and says that we should book the night train right away, because it’s much cheaper. Thessaloniki is the next stop on the way for those who will be traveling through the Balkans, but Hadikun and I haven’t decided yet, and we prefer to go by air with fake documents.

We leave the falafel shop with that new guy, and as a last piece of help he shows us a cheap hotel for 10 EUR per night. I decide not to go back to that falafel shop because I don’t know anything about the background of the owner.

He seemed nice, but usually when dealing with Syrians I try to hide the fact that I’m from Latakia in order to avoid any troubles related to political or sectarian reasons, because Latakia is known to be a supporter of the Regime with a majority of Alawites (one of the many religious sects in Syria).

For a huge percentage of Syrians being from Latakia is suspicious because it means “Supporter of the Regime” or “Alawite,” and even if someone is Sunni (Islam’s mainstream sect) from Latakia, there is a widespread belief that these Sunnis “betrayed the revolution.”

Based on all of that, I thought it better not to get in close touch with the guy, because he might ask where am I from, to which sect I belong, and what I think about the situation while I’m trying to avoid all these topics – if not the pertinence to the entire poor social system that lead its people to such an abyss!

Stationary for a While

Hadikun and I decide that we are going by air, so we stay at this 10 EUR hostel at Victor Hugo street (I hope we’ll not be Les Miserables if we stay here, I think to myself jokingly). The others book their train tickets to Thessaloniki on the night train going next day.

The next thing we research is how to receive our money from Turkey, because the whole financial system -including banks and money transfer companies – is closed till further notice, and even Greeks can’t withdraw more than 60 EUR per day from ATMs.

After our comrades leave for Thessaloniki, Hadikun and I start our daily walks exploring Athens, pretending, even to ourselves, that we are ordinary tourists, and to look for a solution for our financial problem.

The first thing we notice is that the buildings which belong to 70s, 80s, and 90s are so similar to their counterparts in Syria, and, architecturally speaking, Athens gives the same impression as that of the chaotic Syrio-Lebanese cities in their contemporary versions.

It reminds us of place we’re trying to escape, but we’re able to forget this when we look at the people around us and see that the society is different and already liberated from the useless “conservations” of previous ages – unlike the Arab societies still imprisoned in ages of needless, even harmful, traditions.

We could see in some parts that Athens, before the emergence of these “Polykatikeia” buildings, was a beautiful place from an architectural point of view – the same as the cities of the Levant.

The (natural) beauty and ugliness  (architecture) of Athens.
The (natural) beauty and ugliness (architecture) of Athens.  Γκρεμίζουν την Αθήνα την παλιά του παλιού του μάγκα ραγίζουν την καρδιά 

These daily walks lead us to different places, like the old city (which we like too much at night), and to other “Syria-like” neighborhoods. Our focus on finding cheap shops always was fruitful: we ate daily at Abu Michel’s Falafel, because we could get a huge sandwich for 1.5 EUR, and Abu Michel himself had a good sense of humor and was always welcoming.

We discovered places we could buy natural juice for 1.20 EUR, semi-shops that sold clothes starting from 3 EUR, a cheap Bulgarian supermarket, 1 EUR shops, and other low budget options. It seemed that other fellow Syrians were doing the same, but too many of them used to stay at the Omoneia Square awake all night, waiting for the next step, whatever that next step is.

A few days later, we arrange a meeting with the guy who is supposed to provide us with the fake documents to fly away.  We go to the mentioned address on foot although it seems a bit far, because we like walking, not to mention our low budget.

On the way to this guy (whom I’ll call Faggio), the “Syrian Architecture” feeling gets stronger, but we always remember that we’re somewhere else by looking at the people, Greek flags, and Greek Style buildings that we see on the way, like the National Archaeological Museum. After about 30 minutes walk, we met Faggio at the agreed point, and he takes us to a shaded cafe in a nice side-street.

I get a good impression about him, because he reminds me of our mediator in Izmir: aa calm person, not much influenced in the Syrian/Middle Eastern mainstream culture, caring…one of those who got involved in this business because he had no other choice, NOT because he has a huge appetite for fast cash.

I expected Faggio to be such a guy, because I knew about him from a friend of my friends from Latakia who had come to Istanbul trying to make his way to Germany. We became “mates” faster than we would have if we’d have been in Latakia. I’d expected this Latakian friend could lead me to such people as Faggio.

While sitting in the café Faggio tells us that originally he tried to go to Europe illegally after losing almost everything in his native city of Aleppo, but he found himself stuck in Greece with no money, so he had to find some work quickly. Also, he had to pave the way for his family to go north.

That’s how he ended up doing this business in Athens. With Faggio we talked about different issues also, like what we used to do in Syria, what are our plans when we reach our destinations, and how we liked Athens.

When the meeting finished, we came back with a good impression, plus the info we needed to receive our money from Istanbul: there were Syrian “bureaus” working behind the scenes to provide such services for reasonable prices.

We went back “home” to our hostel at Victor Hugo’s, our “headquarters” to plan all our steps, where we were always warmly welcomed by the receptionists, exchanging greetings with the people sitting in the small lounge downstairs, including a Syrian handicapped guy who used to welcome us with a smile every day as we passed by.

Soubhi was his name, and he had problems walking normally, so he used a cane. Once as I was passing through the main lobby, he greeted me with “Why are you still here? I thought your wings were ready!” At that moment I decided to get closer and hear his story. He used to sit in the small hostel lobby alone every night, waiting for his “wings.”

After chatting for a while, I felt comfortable about that he had an open view of the situation. He was against the regime, his father and brother having died in the dark cells of the secret service. It took two years after his father’s disappearance for his family to learn that the father died after two days in prison.

According to Soubhi, the father was very keen not to talk politics because his other son (Soubhi’s brother) was an army officer, and if the family showed any symptoms of opposing the regime, the first victim would be the officer. The officer was never imprisoned nor interrogated, but the father and his other son (another brother of Soubhi) died in prison.

In this system people get arrested on so-called “reports” suspecting that they might be involved in anti-regime activities. These reports can be written by other people who have personal issues not related to politics at all. In these cases, the accused are considered guilty until proven otherwise – that’s why they get tortured or neglected until a clear decision – which takes a whole eternity sometimes – is made.

Soubhi left his wife and children in Istanbul at his brother the officer’s house. (He’d deserted the army to escape any possible persecution after his brother and father died in prison.) On the way to Turkey, he was caught by some Islamic militants who wanted to execute him, knowing that he was an officer in the army.

He managed to get loose and reach Istanbul after a scary journey. Soubhi’s wife is an Alawite from the Syrian coast, which is another testament that the guy is not sectarian nor Islamist in any way. He is afraid of the Islamification of the country more than he is afraid of the regime. “This is not a revolution, what we are seeing now is horrible….” he repeated on several occasions.

Soubhi decided to go to Europe in spite of his handicap, in order to ensure a better life for his family away from hatred. He had been in the hostel for 40 days, had had three attempts with different passports, but nothing really worked. However, he kept trying because he had no other choice.

Hadikun and I kept “voyaging” through Athens organizing my money transfer: I’d left my money with my Turkish flatmate in Istanbul in order to send it to me via Western Union, but since the financial system not working in Greece, I had to send it through this Syrian alternative.

"No more walls in the sea:" the same poster in different languages
“No more walls in the sea:” the same poster in different languages 

Days pass by, and we keep wandering around the city, this time more carefully as we are now carrying a huge amount of money with us all the time. Ready to try his first attempt, Hadikun deposits his money into a black-market bureau that works as a financial guarantor between the traffickers and traffickee.

Neither the mediator nor the trafficker gets their money if the refugee doesn’t reach his/her destination, because the refugee has a password agreed upon with the bureau, which the traveler discloses to the mediator/trafficker only in the case of success. It is only then that the mediator/trafficker can get the money – the refugee has the right to retake his/her money after a certain time if attempts to reach the promised land didn’t work. The same mechanism is used in Izmir for boat journeys.

I can’t do this step because I have to wait for my friend (Dave Hume), who was originally supposed to be my journey companion. The reason why I had to wait for him is because I had his money!! We kept our money with the same Turkish friend who was leaving Turkey for a long-term journey.

Dave Hume is an exceptional personality – one of those who works hard and is smart at the same time, never gives up, and represents a good living example of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Hume was the one who planted in my head the idea of reaching Europe illegally, because it seemed much easier than obtaining a visa (which might be impossible). He even gathered all the information needed about the route through the Balkans.

We got acquainted in Istanbul, where he had many ups and more downs. When I first met him he had a good job, but was fired because his boss was exploiting him and overloading him with huge tasks as if he was some kind of servant. He also had a huge amount of money stolen by impostors who promised him different things and then faded away.

Despite all of this, and although there was a big possibility that he wouldn’t be able to make it back to Istanbul since Istanbul has a bad reputation as a “capital for the Syrian Opposition” amongst the supporters of the regime, he was brave enough to go back to Damascus for his last university exam.

He almost got stuck there, but his quick-witted mind allowed him to pass through the military checkpoint safely. He wanted to graduate and keep moving on to higher educational degrees, so this last exam in Damascus must be passed.

Similar to me, Hume got sick of the sectarian, religious, social, and political limitations and tensions in Syria and has an ambition of becoming a world citizen who achieves success in various fields. Europe is the closest place which allows us to achieve that.

The Wanderers House

So I can’t make my move before Hume arrives – or at least before I find an alternative way to deliver his money – so I keep hanging around Athens for a bit longer. I have to find an alternative to Victor Hugo, because Hadikun’s attempt will be coming soon and we are 80% sure that he’s going to make it with his new Malaysian passport.

I was writing to one of my good acquaintances in Croatia, and she told me that there are some Serbian guys organizing a good initiative – a house where travelers can sleep for free in exchange for contributions and donations. I found the house on Facebook and asked if I could join.

They approved my request, for four days (the maximum, in order to allow other travelers to come). When the agreed day arrived, I exchanged “farewell” wishes with Hadikun and followed the instructions to reach the house, where I’m welcomed.

It was a normal apartment with no furniture, because everyone has to bring their own sleeping bags or whatever they like to sleep on. When I first got in, one of the travelers provided me with a general overview about do’s and don’ts. It’s a great idea, someone hires a house in a city, free of furniture, in order to provide a platform for travelers to meet and cooperate in a very minimalistic environment materially, but very rich intellectually.

Everyone is a guest and a host at the same time. There is a minimum required level of discipline in order to keep it going smoothly for all, but there is also a huge margin of freedom: freedom in contributing, freedom in communication, freedom from the monetary system (at least in terms of paid accommodation).

The house was a great chance to meet different interesting people, the most prominent of whom was the main organizer (Elia), a calm personality who seemed to have traveled a lot. He told me his idea was born in Istanbul, and having achieved success there, organized similar houses in Granada and Tbilisi in addition to Athens.

At about 14:15 on the first day I open the door and see a guy who speaks good Japanese, is a graphic designer, and artist – whose name is Hadikun! He came to the house after the failure of his first attempt. I had given him the info needed to register in case he failed.

Lina, the organizer who provided him with the instructions when he got in, thought he was from Switzerland! We wondered how it could be, but countries separated by huge Tempo-Geographical gap in reality – like Syria and Switzerland – are only one click away from each other on an online country list.

That evening we had a delicious Greek dinner cooked by Nadora (also not real name), a nice girl from Albanian origins, who cooks delicious Greek meals for everyone in the house once in a week. These dinners are a great chance to socialize, as everybody sits in a circle and talks about whatever, and a good example of the common spirit since everyone participates by money or contributions.

These initiatives are really important in our increasingly integrated world: we need such bridges of mutual understanding and examples of common non-monetary lifestyles in order to achieve our next evolutionary leap – avoiding conflict as much as possible – successfully.

There are a huge lot of reasons and tools for destructive conflicts based on all kinds of differences (political, racial, religious, regional – you just name it): Greek dinners (or other dinners if you would like) can be our savior.

 Ready to Fly

A few days after I deposit my money in an “insurance bureau,” I receive a midnight message from my mediator Faggio telling me to get ready – he has a Polish ID for me. I meet him about 2:00 AM at some forgotten corner. He shows me the ID with my picture on it (a picture that I took 2 days ago).

It really looks very original, except Warsaw is written in English instead of Polish, and even misspelled! Warsow! Where is this city? He assured me that there was no problem at all.

Back at the house, everybody seemed excited to see this Polish ID – most of them didn’t have to deal with fake IDs/Documents since they had European/quasi-European documents – for them it was really exotic to see firsthand someone paying huge amounts of money in order to pass those 10-15 seconds of passport control.

The next day, all I hear is “I hope I will NOT see you today,” as a wish of good luck in this attempt of mine.

At the airport, I follow the instructions that Faggio had provided: “Be confident, live your life normally, and way to go.” First gate, passed. Second gate (baggage control); third gate (boarding control), passed. I reach Gate B31 and sit down with everyone else waiting for the plane going to Modlin airport in Warsaw.

When the boarding time comes, I move on very confidently, but confidence doesn’t mean anything if your document has a shouting spelling mistake, which the controller’s eye can hear from miles away. The controller says to me “Please sit aside, we have to check this.”

At this moment I was sure that I was busted, but I was at least happy that my skills of paying attention to details are good enough. A few minutes later the security officer comes and asks me in a very polite manner in English “Where did you get this?” I answered him in Greek that I bought it.

“So you speak Greek?” he asks. “Maybe,” I answer. He guesses that I’m from Syria, and asks me to follow him. He accompanies me to the first gate, and tells me “Here you leave my friend.” I thanked him for his real politeness and went away. It seemed that he felt more sorry for me more than even I felt!

Athens’s airport staff is tolerant with Syrians who travel with fake documents. When they realize that someone is Syrian trying to get to Europe with a fake document, all they do is just take the document away and ask you go back. They don’t take any serious measures.

From my personal experience, and the stories I heard from others, I think that Greece was very helpful to Syrian refugees during this crisis. They are the first and the biggest station for the refugee tsunamis, but in comparison to other countries on this migration road the Greeks are extremely patient and tolerant although they have their own economic troubles.

Back at the house, everybody seems more disappointed than I am. Anyway, this was a chance to cook more, chat more, and do more collective activities, until I get my new document as promised by Faggio.

Faster than I thought, Faggio calls me the same night and tells me there is an Italian ID with a booking to Germany. “Would you take this?” he said. I say yes and meet him at 11:00 PM to give him my personal pictures for the new document. He says the document will be ready at 1:30 AM.

Everything goes as planned, and I get the document and the ticket. When I first saw the Italian ID I thought there was no way I was going to fly. It seemed very primitive, and the name and surname of the guy were not Italian at all. “Anyway, it’s just another attempt,” I said to myself.

I liked the idea that the ticket was to Berlin – this way I would get a chance to drink coffee with my sister (she was studying there at the time) before moving forward to Warsaw. But of course, everything depends on these ten seconds at the passport control.

At the airport I repeat the same steps, only the last step is different. The controller just looks at my face to compare it with the face in the ID and lets me in.

Personal Analysis & Opinion

I’m expressing my opinion regarding the refugee crisis here as a person who doesn’t belong to either side, yet belongs to them both at the same time.

Who are the refugees?

From what I read on the net, the stories I hear from friends, and my personal experience, I could say that there are three categories of (at least Syrian) refugees.

Real Refugees

Poor or helpless people who have lost almost everything, including hope to see the end of this mess: that’s why they decided to move on to Europe (namely Germany, Holland and Scandinavian countries). There they can find peace, hope for a better future, and reasonable financial aid until they’re able to stand on their feet again.

They come usually from conservative communities, but their version of Islam is what I call “Popular Islam,” which is not dangerous against others. They have a positive attitude toward the Europeans who they see as having saved them while their own compatriots and fellow Arabs and Muslims didn’t give a damn about them.

Amongst this category there is a huge sentiment of thankfulness towards the receiving countries, and a will to be positive contributors themselves. A significant portion of this category is determined to “go back home” when it’s finished. I think they’ll remain conservative in Europe (at least the first generation if they stay there). They understand that European societies have different standards and will not try to impose anything on Europeans.

Bad Refugees

One can also see a visible (not huge, but also not very small) category of “negative refugees.” The common denominator amongst these is the ingratitude toward receiving countries. Bad refugees are the examples that scare some Europeans from accepting refugees, and fuel right-wing arguments against “The Islamic Trojan Horse” coming to Europe.

Some of them look at Europe as a place where they can get easy money, without paying any real respect to the fact that these new countries have welcomed them much better than their fellow people.

Others can be dangerous: they have an “Islamist” background (“Islamist” in the sense of aggressive religious fanaticism, or compassion with fanatics). These don’t have any respect for the “infidel” people they criticize. Fortunately, it’s easy to distinguish them, as they will always be trying to make demonstrations or other activities to express their discontent, or to impose their opinions.

This part of the second category is especially responsible for increasing Islamophobia amongst the Europeans who deal directly with them.

Cultural Refugees

These ones are the skilled, the creative, the ambitious who felt always as strangers in the socio-political systems of their original societies, which at the least didn’t support anyone trying to behave “outside of the matrix,” and at the worst waged war against any new or unfamiliar personalities/ideas.

After the war, they’ve felt more alienated in a country divided between a totalitarian regime and Islamic militant groups, and the zealous supporters of each party.

Some of the cultural refugees were opponents of the regime and participators in the demonstrations. They had to flee Syria to escape persecution. Most of them have become now opponents of both the regime and the Islamic militant groups, which for them represent a huge disappointment in this society.

Another part of the cultural refugees are the ones who were keen to avoid any tension from the beginning. They didn’t participate in any activity (on purpose), thinking that this will only lead to more blood and tension with no “victory” for anyone. They were aliens before the war, and after the war they’ve become even more alienated.

Some cultural refugees are/were regime supporters. They’ve lost their hope in any “victory” because of the corruption of the regime and the vicious circle that doesn’t seem to be ending quickly as they expected. This is what made them revise their opinions, and reach the conclusion that it’s best to live somewhere else where a human being is more respected.

It is worth mentioning that they support/supported the regime not because they are ready to fight and kill for this cause, but because in their eyes it represented the best possible choice on ground – they are intellectuals and university graduates who had nothing to do with weapons, same as the intellectual supporters of the opposition, who were hoping to create a democratic and free Syria.

Of course, you can find people who belong to a mixture of these categories at the same time.

 And the Europeans?

“Welcome Refugees”

Free of any kind of discrimination against any racial, ethnic, religious group of people, they think that everyone on the planet deserves a decent life, and the priority is for helping fellow humans rather than caring about “who’s legal and who’s not.”

“Right Wing”

Refusing to accept refugees based on discriminative (racial, anti-Islamic, nationalistic) reasons, for them these migrants/refugees are at best inferior people/unwelcomed guests, and at worst, enemies.

They can’t see the distinction between the aforementioned categories of refugees. Usually one can recognize this category by their hate language, which is similar to the hate language that Islamists and other fanatics use against “others.”

“No Hatred, but No Refugees”

People in this category are not racist and have nothing personal against Muslims/Arabs, but they think that accepting this amount of people coming from a different culture (inflicted with wars, conflicts, fanatism, ignorance, etc.) will have negative effects.

They might even have friends from Muslim/Arab backgrounds or countries, but they think that the majority of the newcomers will not be as nice as their Arab/Muslim friends, especially with what they see about Muslim countries through different media, or their own personal experiences sometimes.

Personal Opinion

Pragmatically speaking, I think for the EU it’s not a matter of accepting or not accepting; rather it’s about the way to receive the refugees. Greece, Italy and Hungary will keep witnessing an influx of refugees as long as there are wars/troubles in the poorer regions of the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

It’s not practically possible (let alone ethical) to stop these waves of refugees in a world that is becoming more integrated – where a war in one place might have far-reaching echoes in ways never before seen in the history of humanity. This is what “Right Wing” Europeans can’t understand, apparently.

The EU countries are obliged to help Greece, Italy and Hungary as members of the same union. However, they have to come up with a plan to welcome refugees. This plan should be well designed, fulfilling the following elements: (1.) finding out “who is who” (i.e., who belongs to each category) amongst refugees.

(2.) Avoiding any troubles that might be caused by “bad” refugees (this can be done with the help of other Syrians who are willing to demonstrate the bright face of Syria, and don’t feel comfortable towards the negative deeds done in their name).

Here it is worth mentioning that many Europeans from the “Welcome Refugees” category should pay attention to the fact that not all the refugees are “nice,” and refrain from arguing with the opponents of accepting refugees – because arguing just leads to more polarization and complications.

I think it would be better if they could keep working, but avoid direct confrontations with Right-Wing. Eventually, it’s about building a positive sentiment (as much as possible) among all the parties concerned, from both the Europeans and the refugees.

(3.) Designing different integration plans according to each category, and according to the country situation, down to the very local level.

I know my view might be very short-sighted, but this is everything I can come up with so far, based on my knowledge and observations. If you have any new suggestions, comments, or ideas, they are more than welcome…especially with a cup of coffee or tea.

(Understanding the crisis)

(Humanity Thanks)

Thank you for reading, and if you have any questions about anything here please contact me via the “contact” link at the top of this blog. 

With love

Jamie

Compulsory Tourism II: Mytilini

I was staying at a flat in Uskudar, Istanbul when two Syrian flatmates with whom I would become great friends and stay in touch arrived.

When I heard the friend whose story I am about to share was going to take one of the sea-crossing journeys from Turkey to Europe I was less than thrilled with a world that would put someone in this predicament.

But he assured all of us who asked that he would be fine, so we had to believe that.

The situation is terrible, and it doesn’t look to be getting better anytime soon, but my friend is fine, and about  month ago he sent me a forty-page document detailing the whole story of his journey. 

Having read (as we all have) so many “ripple-effect” refugee stories (I talk about this elsewhere on this blog), it was almost calming for me to read a first-hand account. Mostly I feel really happy for my friend that he made it to somewhere he wants to be. 

Please read (and share!) this story written by my friend: the more people who can understand the “refugee crisis” as it affects the whole world, the better.

Jamie Lynn Buehner, December 12, 2015

Entre Dos Aguas

As we move away from Turkish waters, everything becomes smaller behind us: the houses, the hills, the beach….but it seems as though we’re not getting any closer to the Greek island.

We can see it floating on the azure serene water, and the boat is moving well, but nothing is becoming bigger and we feel as if we’re stuck between two waters; neither of the two shores seems near.

We see what seems to be another boat of refugees and wave our hands but get no answer. Some of us agree they are refugees; others say it’s just a fishing boat. This “small dot” seems to be not moving anyway, with no response at all.

We try to forget the time by talking about different things – our previous lives, our future destinations. Some prefer to sing, others try to force themselves to sleep. I keep receiving calls from the guys on the Turkish side, checking that everything is going well.

After two hours we start to feel hope again: the Greek island of Lesvos starts to get clearer; one could see smiles starting to shine on everyone’s faces. An old man at the front of the boat starts to give us “directives” about where exactly to go next!

As we approach the island, waves start to get a bit higher, so our two great captains make use of their 2-hours’ experience to make some maneuvers which turn out to be successful. While celebrating one of these successful maneuvers, we see a huge ship coming very fast towards us, so we stop the move until it passes to avoid the huge waves it causes.

We keep our eyes on it as it passes about 600 meters in front of us – really fast in relation to its huge size. Then, as expected, the biggest waves start to rock us and this time we feel the boat might flip upside down. I wasn’t really afraid because I can make to the shore somehow, but the majority of those on board have never been to the sea before, even for swimming.

We make it again thanks to our “veteran” captains. Everybody claps and some guys stand up to dance or make cheers of happiness, forgetting that if they fall the Captains can’t do anything this time!

I keep receiving calls on my nylon-wrapped mobile, keep answering “30 dakika icinde orda olacaz….ama emin degilim” (“We’ll be there within 30 minutes….but I’m not sure”). I added “I’m not sure” again and again for about an hour and a half – it always seemed to me we’d hit the mirage-like shore within 30 minutes maximum.

Receiving one of those calls on the" floating carpet," the "Captain" in orange vest, my travel mates looking directly towards their future. (Taken by Hadikun)
Receiving one of those calls on the” floating carpet,” the “Captain” in orange vest, my travel mates looking directly towards their future. (Taken by Hadikun) 

The Saviors

After a while of meditational silence while the boat kept moving forward, we see a fast boat heading towards us. The captains decide to let it pass, but instead it moves directly towards us. “What’s this all about?” we stand amazed. As it comes closer, we hear a voice shouting through the speakers “Stop the engine, we came to save you!”

I see the word “Limeniko Soma” and tell the guys it’s the Greek Coast Guard. We didn’t really know what to do, but we decide to stop because we have no other choice. Sometimes having no choice is the best choice, because it makes us avoid a lot of thinking and accept facts as they are.

They ask us to tie our boat to theirs, and repeat the phrase “Don’t worry, we will save you” in English. We followed their instructions, and everything seemed to be alright.

As we began to climb onto their boat, they start to shout with an aggressive tone in order to keep things in order. Syrians (like most “Third World” people) usually lack a sense of general discipline for the collective interest; they act very chaotically in such situations.

The Coast Guard perforates the rubber boat and it starts to sink – with our stuff still on it. I decide to use my good knowledge of Greek, which I always wanted to be a language of music, of food, of love etc.: “Mipos boroume na paroume tis tsantes mas parakalo?” (“Can we take our bags, please?”) I asked one of the crew members.

The guy looked at me happily: finally they found someone to help them keep discipline onboard. He told me that one of us can jump to the slowly sinking boat and throw up all the bags. One of the Syrian guys volunteers quickly and saves what were our “precious treasures” at the time!

I start to play my new role as a mediator to help the crew keep things in order. “Please sit down,” I say to one guy. “Please remain silent,” I say to others. “Please put the bags there, please don’t move,” the crew threatening jokingly all the while that it’s easy to send us back to Turkey if we don’t keep things in order.

And yet – it seems that we are moving towards Turkey. “Maybe they are not joking,” I think to myself. Did they really mean it? Everybody panics. Some of the guys even wanted to throw themselves into the water – seriously. They are determined: no going back.

At this moment one of the crew members uses me as a mouth to tell the guys to remain calm: “We’re NOT going back to Turkey; we’re going to save another boat of your fellow Syrians.” Everyone becomes quiet again, while crew members start talking to each other about the next rescue steps.

While moving towards “saving” the other boat, my ear catches that one of the crew members is called “Sotiris:” it’s another optimistic sign, like the Tango in the Izmir park, I said to myself. “Sotiris” means “Savior.” We’re really saved.

The same procedures are repeated with the second boat, which is nothing but that far floating dot about which we had the discussion. The guys on the other boat were really in a miserable situation. Their engine had stopped after one hour of moving, and they couldn’t do anything but keep going with the flow until a miracle happens.

Thanks to modern technology, this miracle happened and the Greek Coast Guard spotted them, and spotted us. I called all the members of the Greek crew “Sotiris” and forgot which one of them was the real “Sotiris.” They were all saviors at this point.

Now we’re heading to Lesvos, quickly this time: everything is getting bigger faster on the land. We were about 15 minutes from the shore. During this time I took a scanning look at the faces of the tired refugees enjoying this moment of relief. “No way,” I say to myself: I recognize one of the faces from the other boat as one of my acquaintances from my hometown in Syria.

The last update I heard about him said that he was detained in an unknown place by the secret service. I was really happy to know that he made it here. He recognized me at once, but we preferred to remain silent until we reached the shore.

As we headed to the shore, I had casual conversations with the crew members:
“Why do you know Greek?” “What’s your destination?” “How much did you pay for this journey?” “What’s happening there that made you leave everything behind and come here?”

Soon we are in the port. We get off quickly, but the guys in the port are not as nice as the Coast Guard crew: they are very aggressive and screamy. Again I was asked to mediate and explain everything to the Syrian fellows. It was a hard time because the tension was so high!

After standing in lines, we head to a closed sports hall near the port of the city of Mytilini where they gather us, collect our names and data, and provide medical care to those who need it. After a while I realize this aggressiveness isn’t based on discriminative reasons – it’s the only way to maintain discipline: the same guys who were aggressive acted differently as soon as everything was in order.

At this closed sports hall, there was a nice old lady from the medics team taking care of children and the old people. On the other boat there was a 70 year old lady, and two three and four year old children accompanying a woman who seemed about 35. The children were hers and the old lady was her mother!

We are told we will move to the camp within the next few hours.

Mytilini after the end of what seemed to be "endless 30 minutes" (picture from the net, but it would seem the same if I took it)
Mytilini after the end of what seemed to be “endless 30 minutes” (picture from the net, but it would seem the same if I took it) 

The Camp

It’s been two hours since we arrived. A blue bus comes, we get on, and we go to the camp. As we go through Mytilini, I enjoy the views of the colorful houses, the blue sea, and the beautiful castle.

The camp is a horrible place. It stinks in the heat and is overcrowded by refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and other poor countries. There are white tents provided by the government or some organization, but they are really dirty and full of flies.

Other black, small tents are much cleaner and are privately bought for about 30 euros. When a family or a group leaves, they sell their tent to other newcomers.

Hadikun and I decide that we can’t sleep in the camp, and we do not spend too much time in the camp, but move around the city exploring it like very poor tourists. When we go to the public beach to swim, they tell us we can’t swim in shorts but we must buy official swimming suits!

Hadikun is an interesting personality, and I am happy that he was my companion. Originally I was supposed to go with another friend, but he couldn’t come with me because he had other things to finish in Istanbul.

Hadikun is a very quiet person, a visual artist and graphic designer, interested in Japanese culture. These elements made him very comforting to me, because I prefer to avoid close contact with the mainstream Syrian conservative mentality. Hadikun had the same attitude, and was a good match for the journey.

He also had his part of the Syrian misery: his father has been missing in the regime’s prisons since he was arrested the same day he was supposed to go a gulf country based on a job contract. They accused him of “supporting terrorism” because one of his relatives was involved in the “Free Army,” but Hadikun’s father didn’t even know about it.

Hadikun himself also had a taste of this. He was at the wrong place in the wrong time, so the secret service arrested him with accusations of being involved in anti-regime activities. He spent one week in a solitary cell that barely was enough for him, until some officer noticed that this guy is not into this business at all, and opened the cage for him.

Camp life selfie: Hadikun and me
Camp life selfie: Hadikun and me

In the camp, all kinds of misery is visible, and people are escaping from all different kinds of persecution – wars, poverty, you name it. Unfortunately, the cultural gap is very huge between these people and the ones of the “advanced” nations. The environment is totally different. This is a bad omen for the world.

The majority of humans on earth live in ignorance, poverty, and conflict; in misery that will explode into huge catastrophes, which will make huge and incontrollable migration tsunamis, which will reach the “advanced” world sooner or later.

There is an urgent need to deal with our planet as a whole – soon it will not be possible to have a culturally and technologically advanced minority and a vast majority afflicted by poverty, fanaticism, useless traditions, wars, sectarianism, and other diseases.

It is not a “luxury” of the “rich nations” to help the “poor nations;” it’s a must if the “advanced world” wants to protect itself from such scenarios. “We need a new Planet Comprehensive System,” I repeat in my head each time I hear one of these stories or witness one of these cases that reminds me of this huge gap.

We used to sleep under abandoned trucks, sometimes above them or inside them. Each one of the guys had his favorite place. I even was invited to drink wine on a corner of an abandoned warehouse. Other guys slept on the edges of the main road, others on the beach.

We kept coming back to the camp everyday to check if the “papers” which would allow us to go to Athens were ready. We had to make sure to come over and over again, because if our names were announced in our absence, we’d have to stay there for a few more days until they re-announce them again.

We bought Vodaphone SIM cards for ten euros from a nice guy and two girls who came especially to the camp to sell us these windows to the outer world. Nevertheless, we couldn’t keep in touch with the “world out there,” because we had no possibility of charging our phones except for a small kiosk we visited every morning to enjoy some snack or a drink and charge our mobiles (others had their own alternative ways of charging).

The kiosk-keepers were extremely nice and compassionate, and the kiosk was a platform to hear all kinds of stories from all kinds of refugees. The Eritrean guy escaping from the persecution of the authorities, and the Iraqi guy pretending to be Syrian who had his own story with ISIS (ISIL) who wanted him to fight on their side.

Mustafa’s family (this Iraqi guy) had a history of persecution from different sides, starting from the previous Saddam Hussein regime, passing through the local parties, and finally ISIS! Mustafa was a simple person from a conservative family, he was not “fanatic” at all; he had a good friendly spirit towards everyone.

Another example of misery was an old man from the northern parts of Syria who didn’t know exactly where he was going and kept asking everyone “which country is the best, I have to bring my family?”

On the other hand, there were some examples of people who might become “fanatics,” like a guy who was criticizing the “infidel lifestyle” all the time, so some guys asked him “Why are you seeking refuge in the lands of the infidels then?”

When you see this category of “refugees” you can understand why some people in Europe are afraid of the “Islamification,” especially in that this category might represent all the refugees in the eyes of some Europeans, like the right wing, or the Islamo-/xenophobic movements, who think that everyone coming from the Middle East belongs to ISIS or something like it. This might be partially true, but a huge part of refugees are actually escaping ISIS and its likes!

After four days of sleeping in the nowhere, not having enough water to wash our hands, much less our dirty and stinky clothes, and lacking of clean toilets, we cheered when the guy from my hometown (whom I will call the Egyptian as Hadikun called him, because he looks like an Egyptian and has a name used in Egypt more than any other Arab country) discovered a tap that we can use near the main road. We bought soap and headed directly there just to get rid of the stink a little bit.

I was going to use that tap in the midst of a hot day when I started to hear beautiful melodies, as if somebody was playing Oud (the Oriental Lute). I thought maybe I’m hallucinating because of the heat. However, while I was washing my head, I turned left, and saw a group of eight guys, with the one in the middle playing real Oud.

I did what I expected of myself: I went to the guys and asked them if I could join as a listener, so they welcomed me. After these two refreshing baths (one with water and the other with melodies), I had a nice chat with this group, who had made their trip from Turkey on their own.

They bought their boat and the fuel, mounted the engine, and chose the track all on their own. The Oud player (I’ll call him Moe) is rather a famous professional player (a graduate of the High Institute of Music) who used to live in Damascus.

Of course musicians are very alienated in the times of war, so it’s better to get moving somewhere else where people are interested in playing and listening to music instead of playing reality show Counter Strike.

Another evening as I was strolling in the city of Mytilini enjoying all kinds of beauty – the sea, the smells, the buildings, the whole atmosphere – I met the Egyptian by accident sitting with other friends, so we sat on an edge on the seafront, and had a chat about everything.

He told me his story about how he was accused of being from the “Opposition” although he is trying to avoid politics in every way possible being that he is a peaceful person, and politics in Syria nowadays means losing too many friends and having endless conflicts, most of which are useless and needless.

After hearing about his tragic 66-day journey through different prisons, he said a sentence that made me laugh although it should make me cry, “There is no way I go back to Syria, I would rather working here as a fish, but I will not go back to Syria!”

Each time we hear about some new batch of papers coming, we head to the camp, just to be disappointed that these papers are for Afghanis, Bangalis, or another group of Syrians. At the end of the 4th day, the police closed the camp and asked us to stay inside.

They closed the main gate to prevent anyone from leaving, which we considered a good omen: maybe the next day they would distribute the papers, and we’d be delivered finally. That night we slept on the beach in a tent that our friends had set under a tree in a clean place a bit far from the camp. It was the nicest sleep in a long time.

We woke up fresh, happy that today at five o’clock we’ll finally receive our keys to freedom. While eating, we hear someone calling us to go up to the camp. A friend of friends of mine said that we should go up immediately, because they were announcing the names. We left everything – we didn’t expect this at 12:50!

As we enter the camp, we see a huge crowd of Syrians in the middle, and hear the shouting voice of the police officer, asking everyone angrily to keep order. “If you don’t remain quiet and disciplined, no papers are going to be distributed,” he said, with some Greek swearwords.

We could manage to get the crowd calm, and succeeded to make everyone sit on the ground after about 20 minutes of struggling with this disorder. I start announcing the names with the help of another guy, and the situation becomes easier. It took about an hour before I spotted my name and put my paper in my pocket.

People who didn’t hear their names desperately asked me and the other guy what to do, so we asked the police officers, and they in turn answered that these people should wait, maybe their papers weren’t ready yet. “We’re trying to help as much as possible, but the numbers are huge – it’s getting out of control,” the police officer told us.

As soon as we got our papers we, a long convoy of “armless infantry” occupying about 500 meters of the road, headed directly to the port to catch the ferry to Athens. We took a shortcut through the castle, and there we met a group of girls in bikinis. It had been a long time since I’d been in touch with such a phenomenon.

I approached the girls (but not too much, because my clothes stank) pretending that I wanted to ask them about the way to the port. I don’t know why I did that – I know where the port is, and obviously nothing will come out of it. Maybe I wanted any type of contact with any beautiful ladies?

Some of the other guys – who come from conservative environments where the connections between the two sexes are very constrained, limited and full of needless obstacles and complications; where maybe they hadn’t gotten in touch with any girl (in a sensual-sexual sense) – are very poor in this sense.

While talking to the girls, I kept watching the guys (I think Hadikun was also watching them, because we both were observing the Syrian mainstream culture), and noticed how the guys were amazed by the scene of the girls, but at the same time acted as if they don’t care.

You could see also, we all were happy that some mermaids appeared to us on the road to give us a slush of soothing energy and guidance.

After ten minutes of walking we finally reached the port, stood in line, and booked our tickets. We saw a huge ship arriving from far away, the same type of ship that caused the huge waves when we approached the island five days prior. What was scary then was now our ally.

Swimming with my "long shorts" - the best way of taking a bath here, and a very refreshing one indeed! (Photo by Hadikun)
Swimming with my “long shorts” – the best way of taking a bath here, and a very refreshing one indeed!
(Photo by Hadikun) 

The Exodus from Lesvos

After 20-25 minutes’ walk (which seemed like ten minutes, but our telephones told us the objective truth) we reached the port, and stood in line to buy tickets, which cost too much for a budget of a refugee (47 EUR, about 52 USD).

Waiting in line I was again reminded of how “orphaned” these refugees are. A huge portion can’t speak even English, so they had difficulties buying the tickets and required the help of others who knew English. They are powerless, like fishes thrown out of water – but who can’t swim.

“I’ve lost 5 EUR in the sea, man, damn it!” I hear someone shouting and, turning around, see it’s Tarek, one of the two Damascene guys with whom we shared the waiting in the Izmir Kultur Parki and the ride thereafter. When I approached, he pointed his finger to a hat floating on water, and laughingly said: “Imagine man, I just paid 5 EUR for this, and it’s gone with the wind….or maybe with the sea!”

While talking about our future plans and how we felt so far, the boarding of two types of travelers – tourists, who were mostly northern Europeans escaping the routine of their lives in their rather cold countries, and refugees, mostly Syrians and Afghanis escaping from their “heated” lives back home, to the routine life of the cold northern countries – began.

Back in humanity, we were treated as travelers on a huge blue ship, while five days ago we were on a small floating rug with a motor. Some of the migrants fell asleep as soon as they saw the comfortable clean seats; others got out on deck to enjoy sea views without being afraid of drowning this time. I joined some new friends and the Egyptian on deck for a coffee and a chat.

While chatting, we felt the need to do a “toilet raid,” based on an order from our bladders. As soon as we reached the bathrooms, the Egyptian decides to take a bath using the hose in the closet! We burst out laughing, but he really meant it and did it! “I can’t stand my smell anymore, man!” he explained.

The next step was to recharge our phones, although no sockets seemed visible. The Egyptian (yes, again him) and another friend of his found sockets behind the TVs, but somebody warned us it was not allowed to use them for personal needs. We plugged in our phones anyway, as we can’t afford staying out of touch.

For the travelers on these journeys, smart phones were a very inevitable tool to keep connection with each other and exchange the needed info. They can even not buy food from time to time, but they must buy smart phones, even if they are used.

After about 3 or 4 hours of sleep, I woke up by the voice of the announcer saying that we will be in Athens within 15 minutes or something like this. Another step forward.

The tsunamis of migrants and refugees: a reflection of a more integrated world…a world that needs to be redesigned.

Compulsory Tourism I (Foreword – Into Smyrna)

 

I was staying at a flat in Uskudar, Istanbul when two Syrian flatmates arrived with whom I became great friends and stayed in touch.

When I heard the friend whose story I am about to share was going to take one of the sea-crossing journeys from Turkey to Europe I was less than thrilled with a world that would put someone in this predicament.

But he assured all of us who asked that he would be fine, so we had to believe that.

The situation is terrible, and it doesn’t look to be getting better anytime soon, but my friend is fine, and about  month ago he sent me a forty-page document detailing the whole story of his journey. 

Having read (as we all have) so many “ripple-effect” refugee stories (I talk about this elsewhere on this blog), it was almost calming for me to read a first-hand account. Mostly I feel really happy for my friend that he made it to somewhere he wants to be. 

Please read (and share!) this story written by my friend: the more people who can understand the “refugee crisis” as it affects the whole world, the better.

Jamie Lynn Buehner, December 12, 2015

Foreword

This story by itself is literally nothing compared to the suffering of other people (refugees or others…not only Syrians) around the world. Actually there is no suffering in this story.

The reason I’ve written it is just to share it with anyone who is interested, and to give a hint about the stories of other people I met on the road. Another aim maybe is to provide you with an example (even though this example is not really “hardcore”) of how crossing the borders illegally as a refugee works in case you have no idea.

“Refugee” is the last thing I am, unless you would like to consider me a “Cultural Refugee” who escaped the limitations of a society still confined by rules of bygone and pre-WWII eras, to seek refuge in less “totalitarian” societies.

At the end of this file, you will find my analysis of the situation and my personal opinion.

Chapter One: Into Smyrna

Goodbye Istanbul

Winter 2014 from the window of what I called home in Istanbul. This place with the magical view on the Bosphorus is to be missed really, especially that it doesn't exist anymore.
Winter 2014 from the window of what I called home in Istanbul. This place with the magical view on the Bosphorus is to be missed really, especially that it doesn’t exist anymore.

I took my time saying goodbye to Istanbul before heading to Izmir, because the road to deliverance starts from there (and from Bodrum [Turkey] for others). A friend of mine was waiting for me there after his first attempt to reach the Hellenic [Greek] shores had failed because of the wavy sea.

I arrived in Izmir feeling free of many things, because I had to let go of almost everything and the “luxury” life in Istanbul. Left is some clothes and money in my backpack, my laptop, clarinet, university diplomas, and the money to cover the journey, all of which I left with my trusted flatmate at my Istanbul house.

I arrived in Izmir at 5:00 o’clock in the morning, I called my journey companion, so he came to meet me at Basmane Square, the epicenter where all the “Tra”s meet each other- the “Tra”ffickers and the “Tra”velers. However, my trip was already planned with the same “Mediator” that my companion in this journey relied on.

It was a rainy night, so my journey-companion (I’ll call him Hadikun) had slept at some house rented by 20 Syrian guys for 150 TL per day…but that day we didn’t sleep – we just stayed awake walking from street to street all day.

The "whole world" at Basmane Square (not my photo, because my priority was to save my phone battery)
The “whole world” at Basmane Square (not my photo, because my priority was to save my phone battery)

The Mediator

Mediators are people who mediate between the Travelers and the Traffickers, but they are mistakenly sometimes also called Traffickers (the real Traffickers are hidden behind the scenes).

Our mediator was a real human being (not a money eating creature) – he was a decent person that circumstances led to do such a thing. Unlike most of the Mediators, he is a man of his word, really caring, and he always gave us extra info about Izmir and the best things to do to spend our time fluently until the commencement of our journey.

There were no more cheap hotel rooms left in the city, so we had to sleep in the
central park called “Kultur Parki” for three days, waiting for our lucky day.

In Kultur Parki, two worlds collided: a world of happiness and cheerful events and activities, since it was the main park of Izmir, a city full of beauty and life; and a world of misery – hundreds of Syrians and refugees from other nationalities waiting for the moment.

Hadikun, myself, and another guy whom I shall call “Wallow,” who has a very interesting story, joined the participants in the latter of the two worlds.

Wallow began receiving his lot of this war by serving in the Republican Guard for two years, which he then deserted to join the Free Army. His experience with the RG was positive as he told me – he didn’t feel any discrimination against him as a Sunni Muslim, although the majority of the officers were Alawites (another Muslim sect).

However, he wanted to join the “revolution” to be on the side of his family in the city of Homs, which was officially the birthplace of the Syrian War (for some it’s the “capital of the revolution,” for others it’s the “birthplace of terrorism”). After Wallow fought with the FSA for a while, he started to feel disappointed.

He’d expected a dogmatic revolution, but what he saw was chaos, division, and corruption. For example, in some cases they would ask for backup from other groups, but those groups wouldn’t respond, or would say things like “solve your problems on your own.”

Wallow started to reach the conclusion that needed to get out of the mess as soon as possible, so he found himself a way to Turkey, where he worked for about a year and a half in hard conditions – 12 hours a day in a textile factory, while he lived in a common dormitory with other guys.

He aimed to go Europe and start all over – it was the only possibility to leave the chaos behind, at least until the end of the war.

Joining us in the park were two other guys from Damascus who’d arrived a few days earlier with plans and hopes for their kids and their future. Damascus is a relatively safe city except for some rocket attacks from time to time, but the rest of the country is just hopeless. Everything is madly expensive, there are electricity and water outages, depression…you name it.

Ramez and Tarek, 40-year-old engineers, were shocked at their new reality of sleeping in the park under the rain in a strange city, preparing for an unexpected journey to hunt better lives for their families.

They kept repeating “If someone had told me 4 years ago that I’d be going through this someday, I wouldn’t have believed it.” They hadn’t wanted to leave Damascus, where they’d had acceptable lives before the war – but they didn’t want their children to grow up in a climate of scarcity, despair, and depression.

During our stay in the park we heard different stories: some were running away from the regime; others from ISIS and different militant groups; still others just trying to see the light at the end of this seemingly endless tunnel.

The First Attempt

We receive a call from our gentle Mediator telling us to prepare ourselves, because our trip starts today at 24:00 o’clock [midnight]. He comes to us to the park at 23:00, sits down with us, and we have a nice chat. He tells us about his life in Damascus, where he used to have a jewelry shop.

He had a wide knowledge about everything in life, except maybe that life would throw him into this fate. He was different from the mainstream Syrian culture in the way he that he talked, dressed, and gestured: this was very comforting to me.

When the time came, he told us to follow him to a taxi nearby. We walked through the park hoping it would be our last walk (at least before we get a passport from another country, and come back to Turkey as visitors).

We arrived at a bus stop, and suddenly we heard someone calling us from the other side while trying to make as little noise as much as possible so as not to draw attention.

“Which one of you is the Mediator?” he shouted silently. Our Mediator flew to him and had a 10 seconds talk with the night shouter. After a while came another group of five women and two children, obviously Kurds. After another while, two taxis appeared to take us to the “gathering point.”

The driver took us to a remote place about 45 minutes from the city. It was pitch dark, we could see only the light of the stars, and the light of a cigarette about ten meters from us. As we approached the “light,” we heard a voice saying vague words. Then when we reached that phantom, he showed us the way to the group through the black forest.

It was a group of other phantoms – for whom we were new phantoms also – so all the phantoms waited together in silence for the “moment:” the moment the guy with the cigarette would show us the way.

After enjoying the magical dual absence of sounds and lights, an Izmir-ish version of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” the main ghost told everyone to move on – except us. He told me, Hadikun, Wallow, Tarek and Ramez to wait aside, because there was a mistake, and our attempt should be tomorrow, not today.

After accepting this destiny, we said “at least we enjoyed some hope under the starry night,” and waited in the woods for the taxi to take us back to the city.

The black car, which was actually yellow, came after 20 minutes, the place coloring everything in shades of black and dark blue. We hit the road back to Izmir and received a reassuring call from our Mediator telling us that this was a mistake of the Trafficker, and we shall try again tomorrow.

The fact that he called us at five o’clock in the morning, and stayed with us on the phone all the time, was really significant for us. The man almost doesn’t sleep just to serve his clients. He never complains; he always answers any call. Is that an Übermensch?

“Anyway, it’s just another day of forced Tourism in Izmir,” we thought to ourselves and went on sleeping on our green or brown beds in the park.

A group of "waiters" near Basmane Square (not my photo)
A group of “waiters” near Basmane Square (not my photo)

The second attempt

 I spent my day exploring the beauty of Izmir. I really like the city, especially the seafront – an amazing meeting between the hills, the dark blue waters, and the Greek islands in the distance. I took a nap on the green grass by the sea, enjoying the sounds of the city and the sound of the islands, which I could hear through the visible distance.

Izmir's seafront ca. 60s or 70s (it's still that beautiful!)
Izmir’s seafront ca. 60s or 70s (it’s still that beautiful!)

Here comes the night again, and with it another hope. The same scenario repeated: the 5 of us with the Mediator gathering at 23:00 in the park; again to a Taxi (but this time with no guy shouting from the other side).

As we were moving through the park, I saw what I considered a “good sign,” a familiar melody in the form of a Tango piece by Carlos Gardel called  “Yo no se que me han hecho tus ojos.”

The new part this time is that we were taken to a car wash away from the city – no forest, no starry night. When we reached this car wash, a guy welcomed us and told us to get quickly into a closed trailer without wheels or anything, used as a storage room.

There were already 5 people there, and as time went by, new taxis with new “five peoples” came over and over again. The trailer was full, so we waited for the next step. The Turkish guy from the car wash got in again, counted us, and then told us to stand by for the car that would take us to the “start point.”

The next ten minutes we would be the worst and most dangerous part of the whole trip, at least for me. A mini-van with no windows came, and we were asked to get in fast. How could a car like this with no windows have enough room for 47 people? Everybody was asking, but we got in because we had no other choice.

Inside this moving casket, our freedom of movement was limited to a four centimeter perimeter. But I had a flash of relief, for there were constellations of small bright holes, which looked like the stars from last night, in the ceiling, and they provided us with the air we needed to breathe.

During the dangerous, crazy-speed ride, which lasted two and a half hours, we felt that any time this car could turn upside down and fly to heaven instead of taking us to the start point. At last the car started to move slowly on what seemed to be an off-road path and stopped there as we expected: finally we could breathe fresh air again!

When the Turkish guy began to show us the way through an olive field, and asked us to run after him as fast as possible, everyone forced their legs to run because they couldn’t fly. After ten minutes of running we reached the shore, where two guys were pumping the boat and mounting the motor on it. We started pumping our vests.

When the boat was ready, the Turkish guy asked “Kapitan nerede (where is the Captain)?” We all looked at each other searching for the Captain and were shocked that we had no pre-appointed Captain, because usually on these journeys the Captain is chosen in advance, and he pays no money: here no Captain was chosen, and everybody had paid.

Two guys volunteered to be Captains, and the Turkish guy teaches them the basics. They learn fast and everyone is on board – a small boat supposed to carry no more than 20 People is now loaded with 47. Luckily the water was extremely calm that day – the strongest wave was ten centimeters high.

The Turkish guys took my number to keep in touch with us, and it seemed that this sea journey is much safer than the mini-van ride. We hit the sea, nothing interesting happens, everything goes as expected and planned, and I receive calls from the Turkish guy every ten-fifteen minutes to check if everything is going fine.

The real surprise was that the Turkish Coast Guard didn’t appear to try to stop us like they did with everyone else – even some guys with us on the boat had some advice about how to avoid the Coast Guard they’d gained experience from their previous attempts.

Why should we care? It was a good surprise. We headed forward to the Greek waters with no sign of the Turkish Coast Guard, or any high waves.

Dad’s visit to Germany in 12 photos

Started out the visit by checking out the local environs which happened to include these wild mushrooms
Started out the visit by getting the lay of the land in Bonn and checking out the local environs which happened to include these wild mushrooms
Next we went to Hamburg and boarded a boat
Next we went to Hamburg and, on a very cold and windy day boarded a boat to check out the city center
which included a stop at a Swedish church Dad's friend is helping redesign.
which included a stop at a Swedish church Dad’s friend is helping redesign. We were just in time for this sweet concert.
Snacks in the basement of the Swedish church in Hamburg
Snacks in the basement of the Swedish church in Hamburg
Hamburg Christmas market about to open
Hamburg Christmas market about to open
Back in Bonn for Thanksgiving with my dishwasher from US :)
Back in Bonn for Thanksgiving with my dishwasher from US 🙂
Real Disney castle Drachenfels in Konigswinter is illuminated at night in December
Real Disney castle Drachenfels in Konigswinter is illuminated at night in December
Bonn Christmas market ferris wheel
Bonn Christmas market Ferris wheel
Koln-Dusseldorfer holiday cruise on the Poseidon, last day
Koln-Dusseldorfer holiday cruise on the Poseidon, last day