Monthly Archives: September 2017

Break Down

While traveling through Asia in a converted army truck with a group of zany folks from around the world, we were almost through Turkey when we broke down in a small Kurdish village called Yuksekova. The guidebook we used said not to stop there. Not for lunch, not for tea. It’s larger now, and more cosmopolitan, but back then it was a scary place to spend seven days.

We pitched our tents in a circle around the truck to avoid having any of our gear stolen. Clarence and I thought we were prepared. No. In our summer sleeping bags and thin rain jackets, we froze as the temperature went below zero Celsius every night. I’ve never been so cold, and I’m from northern Manitoba.

We actually invited another couple to sleep in our tent, for the shared body heat. Clarence and I put his sleeping bag over mine and squeezed into that small rectangle together. Our tent cot collapsed, of course. But it was actually warmer on the ground. To this day I’m an inveterate night time pee-er, so of course, around 2 or 3 AM, I’d have to go outside the tent. All the villagers were sleeping, but the packs of wild dogs that roamed the countryside were not. They would circle the village, growling and barking. Clarence would come outside with me and count down. “They’re about fifty feet away. Forty, thirty…hurry up. They’re almost here…hurry!”

Do you know how hard it is to pee under that kind of time restraint? I remember diving into the tent with the dogs snapping at our heels. We’d laugh out of sheer terror, then try to go back to sleep. It was so cold! When traveling, it was nothing for us to get up at 4:30, shiver as the cooking crew of the day made breakfast and then squeeze together in the back of the truck, our laundry hanging above our heads.

Meanwhile, in Yuksekova, every day a crowd would gather at the wall behind our truck for their favorite entertainment: Us. At first, the people seemed fairly benign. The kids would jeer and the old men cat call, but we weren’t too worried. All the women on our truck were wearing scarves so as not to offend the locals. But it soon became apparent that we could not walk around freely. We had designated bathroom breaks where the guys from our truck would encircle us as we walked over to the local outdoor biffy. This was a shack with a set of footprints on the cement that you crouched over and did your business. Unfortunately, many people had poor aim, so you had to watch where you stepped. While we walked inside our circle of men, the people of the village would throw things at us. It was very discouraging.

There was a fellow we took to calling Omar, (he reminded us of the actor, Omar Sharif) who would ride up on a big white horse and stare at us with a very intense look in his eyes. It was the children that were the most annoying, and through sheer boredom, our behavior became quite childish as we started hollering things like, ‘The Kurds are turds!’ Etc. On behalf of myself and my husband, I would like to apologize to the Kurdish people. They’re a brave lot and none of us were at our finest that week.

It’s weird when someone perceives you to be something you are not. All the women on our truck were thought to be hired prostitutes, because what self respecting woman would travel around like this? I’m careful with how I think about people from other cultures, now, because I know what it feels like to be misunderstood. That’s the great thing about travel. You think about Canada, and feel so deeply grateful. Hot water. Peace. Acceptance. No wonder refugees want to live here.

Anyway, one evening after supper, except for the guys who went to phone the British Embassy and the other guys who were scouring the country side for truck parts, the rest of us were sitting in the truck feeling very sorry for ourselves. Suddenly, all the men from the village showed up and started to rock the vehicle from side to side. Clarence was there with us and I remember standing in the middle, clutching him and crying, ‘We’re going to die in Yuksekova! Oh my God!’ I’m sure that was another instance where my mother was praying. Eventually they tired of scaring the crap out of us and went on their way. We tried bribing the village police with whisky, etc, but aside from accepting our gifts, they weren’t really all that much help.

On what I remember as our last night there, some local teachers from a nearby boarding school came and offered to host us for the night. We were thrilled! We folded up our sleeping bags and brought everything we owned so it wouldn’t be stolen. Clarence and I were offered a ride which we gratefully accepted. My husband got in the front with the driver, and I was ushered into the middle of the back seat. Two teachers sat with me, one on each side. I felt completely safe and comfortable until they attacked me. They were literally ripping my clothes off and Clarence had to shout at them and tell them that I belonged to him. He didn’t bother saying I was his wife, because they’d never have believed it. But they stopped. I kept thinking, these guys are teachers!

Culturally, we might have been from Mars. When members of the Iranian army drove into the village to take us across the border (a tale that needs its own post) I remember how courteous they were. They were all young, like us, and seemed happy to meet us. The Shah was about to be kicked out, and the country was going to change, but that day was wonderful.

Turkey is a beautiful country and Istanbul was very modern at the time. Women often wore no head covering at all. We went to Turkish baths where stone lion heads gushed water and where we reclined on a large marble dais in the center and were washed by women wearing loin cloths. It was very biblical.

When we went to another small town and asked if they had baths for women, they said yes! Very excitedly. We arrived at the baths (wearing our bathing suits, just in case) and every man in town was there, lining the walls and awaiting our arrival. Our guys stood in a circle behind us and held up their towels so we could have a semi private wash. Good times.

Other highlights from Turkey:

Clarence jumping into Peter’s arms in Lake Van when he saw an octopus in the water. The beauty of it was how gracefully Peter caught him.

A hail storm that delivered hail the size of hardball’s and sent us into hiding with pots over our heads.

Our friend and fellow traveler, Lynn Olson, being chased down the beach by an old man brandishing a burning piece of wood (He wants to kill me! she said. No one has ever screamed that loud, since,) because we didn’t know all the driftwood was his.

Turkish bazaars, (lovely!) Turkish Delight (yuck!) Fantastic scenery and an unforgettable experience. No breakdown will ever be as memorable. So, dear friends who are gathering for another reunion, here’s to great memories. I’ll write some more, soon. And here’s a couple photos.

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Total Eclipse of the Heart

A month ago, my husband had a heart attack. It was completely unexpected and taught me something I didn’t know about myself. (Yes, I’ve made this all about me.) I realized that when life takes a dystopian turn, I don’t panic. I just become very stupid. Uhhhhhhhhhh, is what goes through my head. Or something like it.

I remember calling for an ambulance, clearing a path for the paramedics through our garage, and trying to calm my husband who was busy barking out orders. Stressful situations bring out the sergeant in him, the strict kind. Think Lou Gossett Jr. in ‘An Officer and A Gentleman.’ While he bellowed from the basement sofa, I was being prompted by the 911 operator to ask him questions. ‘Are you clammy? Where is the pain? How is your breathing?’ Meanwhile, he’s trying to grab the phone and holler, ‘Just send the damned ambulance!’ They were already on their way, but try telling that to Lou Gossett Jr.

We got to the hospital and the questions continued. ‘How bad is your pain from a scale of one to ten, with one being the weakest and ten the strongest?’ The air turned so blue, I thought about opening some windows. They asked this every five minutes. When he realized it was protocol, he settled down.

Meanwhile, the doctor in emergency¬† asked me about my husband’s medication. Proudly, I opened my purse. While they were loading Clarence into the ambulance, I’d calmly walked around and packed up the necessary items. So when I unzipped the top, I was dismayed to find only the creature comforts I’d brought for myself: my kindle and some dark chocolate. ‘I always carry these in case of an emergency,’ I said. ‘You know, in case I’m waiting and I get bored or hungry.’ Dear reader, do you ever listen to yourself and think, I’m a total asshole? It was that kind of moment. Fortunately, they had his medication info in the system.

On the air ambulance to Winnipeg, my husband discussed politics with the nurse the whole way. Finally, about fifteen minutes out, the guy turned to me and said, ‘I’ll give him some fentanyl just to shut him up.’ We exchanged a look of understanding and I went back to reading my kindle. You see? Always bring one with you! I may have secretly nibbled on some chocolate as well.

It took a while for them to put in the stents and by the time he was settled in bed, it was late. Clarence was was positively cheerful at that point. I left with my sister, Jennifer, part of my wonderful built in support system, aka The Hanson Family. It was the next morning that was an eye opener.

I got there late because I felt like I was moving through molasses. You know the feeling when you can’t seem to speed up, even though you’re in a hurry? Then, I couldn’t find the right parking lot. I had a panicked feeling in my chest, and when I walked into his room and saw that he was in a world of pain, I completely lost it. As it turned out, that wasn’t a bad thing. Standing in the hallway crying to a nurse didn’t hurt. They got an anesthetist to come up with a pain plan that worked very well.

But that morning I faced the realization that my husband might die. The thought of living without him blocked out every other good thing in my life. It was a total eclipse of the heart. My heart, not his. I’ve faced this before, as he continues scaring the crap out of me with all his health related shenanigans.

I’m a little bit like him when I’m stressed. “What’s next,’ I asked him, ‘leprosy?’ I guess I sounded a little testy because I got a few strange looks from the nurse. It reminded me of Clarence’s auntie Gladys when her husband stopped breathing one night. They didn’t know about sleep apnea, back then, but she walloped him one and said, ‘You’re not dying and leaving me with this mess, you son of a bitch.’ Which is the Krysowaty way of saying, ‘I love you.’

All is well at the moment. We’ve battened down the hatches, we’re gearing up for winter, and praying for all this damn smoke from forest fires to go away. Things could have been worse. He might have had his heart attack in Houston during all the flooding. As we sat in my sister’s comfortable house, I remember feeling so grateful for it, and for her.¬† In life there will always be chocolate, but also aggravation. Those small and big moments that make up everyone’s story. If we’re lucky, we’ll experience things that are so awesome, they should be accompanied by a carload of screaming cheerleaders.

And the dark times, those moments of total eclipse where the world is dark and we’re uncertain about what will happen next? We all have them. The days when life hands us lemons and we cannot bring ourselves to make lemonade. We let those suckers rot on the shelf because doing the necessary work feels like rolling a boulder uphill. But. We can live our lives in small moments. In pockets of joy that spring up constantly, if only we choose to notice them. To paraphrase Eckhart Tolle, “Always say yes to the present moment. Always dwell in the now.” So if you see me standing somewhere with a goofy look on my face, know that I’m there. And I’m willing to share my chocolate.

Two Shots of Happy

When Clarence and I were traveling through Asia with Encounter Overland, we camped in a field in Turkey across from the Greek island of Lesbos. We were new to the group, maybe a week in, and as we set up our tents and built a campfire, someone brought out a bottle of Turkish vodka.

Another someone found a package of tang and we started mixing drinks. It was on this particular night that my friends Lorna, Lynn, Peta and I started singing together. We were promptly dubbed the Lesbos sisters, and continued annoying the whole group for the next three months.

But on that night we were in fine form. As we drank our way through the bottle, we gradually ran out of tang. ‘It’s so smooth!’ we said. ‘You don’t even need mix!’ Some of the more sensible campers went to bed, but the Lesbos sisters remained behind, serenading anyone who happened to be in the area.

To quote the bible, there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. Like the sheepherders of old, they were drawn in by some angels singing; ie: the Lesbos Sisters. I can’t remember exactly when they joined us, but I have a pretty good idea why.

Folks,when I was twenty-four, there were some things about the world that I didn’t understand yet.

1. I have a meagre capacity for drinking alcohol.
2. I would miss these singing sisters for the rest of my life.
3. Drinking straight vodka makes you blind for a day.
4. Shepherds who want to show you their sheep are just like guys who invite you over to see their etchings. Or, in the case of my husband, their aquarium.

Fortunately, my sisters were watching out for me. I think it was Peta who dragged me back from the edge of a field and out of the clutches of some eager shepherds. And I’m sure that back in Flin Flon, my mother was sitting up in bed, crying, “Save her, God! She’s a bit of an idiot!” Apparently both she and Clarence’s mother wore out their knees with all the praying over our eight month vacation.

The next day, the others in the group got very tired of hearing me whine, ‘I’m blind! I can’t see!’ I’m almost positive there was some serious mockery going on right in front of my face. And who could blame them? For one thing, we drank all the tang. And I’m fairly sure the vodka was meant for bribing border guards and not for gilding the throats of our girl’s group.

Folks from that trip are having another reunion in England this fall, and I’m grieved we won’t be there. But expect more stories to come your way, my intrepid, beloved friends. They’re my way of saying that I miss you all.

And now, a photo of the Lesbos sisters follows this very appropriate song.

 

Lesbos sisers