Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Tajiki Avalanche

Tajikistan , a former USSR country, lies in central Asia bordered by Uzbekistan, Kyrkizstan, Afganistan, and China. It's capital, Dushanbe, known for its monday market, derives its name from the tajiki word for Monday. Tajikistan is not yet widely attractive touristically , but its Pamir Mountains, also named "The Roof of the World" and considered a challenging mountain range , have attracted professional climbers for years.

The first time I showed any interest in this country was when I met the new cleaning woman in our office building. She was originally from Dushanbe, the capital city, and kept telling me about the place with its tree-lined streets and many monuments , and also about the tajiki various customs.
Tajiki food was a constant subject in our conversations, and sometimes she used to treat me with delicacies brought from her home kitchen such as samosas, pirmeni (small noodle sacks with meat &veggies similar to ravioli). Their staple dish is 'plov' made up of scraps of mutton and rice fried in a large wok. A small curiosity: the Tajikis eat sweet dishes like halwa, and drink tea, before proceeding to soup and meat.

Tajikistan and the Pamir mountains came forcefully into my awareness on july 1990 with the dramatic news that an avalanche set off by an earthquake in the Pamir range swept 45 climbers from different countries to their death.
Among these climbers was Benny, a 20 year old alpinist, son of an israeli sovietolog of russian descent, Mikhail Agursky.
It happened late in the night: a minor earthquake caused an ice block to fall off the slope and trigger an enormous ice-snow avalanche ;this avalanche burried the tents and the people at the mountaneering camp located at some 6000 meter up in the Pamir mountains.

An expedition of rescuers was organized, and Agursky, the father, over 60 and not in the best of health, but with knowledge of the language and the mentality of the place joined them to look for his son. There were heart-rending descriptions in the newspapers of that time about the father who stayed at the foot of the mountains for more than two weeks in hope of finding his son dead or alive.
Despite of long time -searching by helicopters and specialist rescuers , only one body was found (that of a woman climber). Out of 45 only two climbers survived the disaster.

The father came back again the following year (after raising the neccessary money), to try to recover his son's body, but - no results. After a while, he was found dead in his hotel room; It was believed he suffered a stroke, but it wouldn't be untrue to say that he died of a broken heart. How sad!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"Deadly" Encounter at the Dead Sea

A former co-worker of mine, Avi, was a sad case of psoriasis(psoriasis - a chronic disease which manifests itself through thick scales and dry red itching patches on the skin). He had it all over his body: on face, scalp, elbows, nails, back. His psoriasis first appeared after he had experienced divorce, so he blamed it all on his ex- wife.

She was an ambitious young lawyer and he was a law graduate who didn't feel like working as a lawyer; she wanted to consolidate her career, he wanted babies - that's how it all started. She was the one who asked for a divorce and he felt devastated for months. When I first met him he was already married to his second wife , apparently the very opposite of his first one: simple and vulgar , but in his condition he couldn't afford to be choosy.

Exposure to the sun and bathing in the salty, mineral rich waters of the Dead Sea - were the only means that helped him relieve itching and pains without undesirable side effects . Twice a year he used to take a three -week vacation and go the Dead Sea , at the Ein Bokek zone which was well equipped with a Solarium, carefully planned to absorb the sun's rays, and provide the patients with the best facilities and treatments possible.

On his return from these Dead Sea vacations, Avi seemed to be a completely different person. His skin was smooth and clear; his self esteem high, and he looked very handsome and relaxed. The period of complete relief lasted about six months till the next attack of the disease.

Every year Ein-Bokek is invaded by hundreds of psoriatic people from all over the world. Avi had friendly connections with many of them ; he was especially attached ( platonic attachment , he said) to an austrian lady (he himself being of austrian descent and speaking the german language); they used to plan their vacations to the Dead Sea so that they arrive together at the spot and leave together, she to Wien, he to Tel-Aviv.

Knowing his wife's violent temper he didn't tell her about his austrian friend, but she found out and demanded to accompany him on his Dead Sea vacations. He strongly opposed the idea saying that without a relaxed atmosphere , away from the stress of home and work , the treatments will have zero effect on his skin disease.

During one of his last Dead Sea vacations, his wife decided to take her little car and drive to Ein Bokek to see with her own eyes what was going on there. Avi was not in his hotel room , so she waited for him in the semi darkness. When he entered his room... accompanied by the austrian friend, she took a chair and threw it at them, and then another one, and then any heavy item found in the room. The two , taken by surprise, couldn't stop her. Luckily the heavy items didn't reach their heads, but hit all the other body parts. For the "finish", she approached them and used her fists and sharp finger nails.. They were left bleeding and in pain.

At this point, our ways , mine and Avi's, went separately as the office got closed and we were transferred to units in different cities.
About two years ago I bumped into him. He looked surprisingly well. He was of course more mature and completely bald, but his skin was radiant.

"Have you been to the Dead Sea lately"? asked I
"No, I haven't been there for quite a long time. I am very busy , and I'm tired of commuting to this place".

"Then how come you look so terrific" ?
"I ask myself the same question" he said, "and have no clear-cut answer to that. I think it's a miracle, and at any rate, I believe that the whole psoriasis matter has to do with my two ex-wives, divorce being the trigger. I got the disease after the first wife filed for a divorce, and I got rid of the disease after I asked my second wife for a divorce. It has all come full circle" .
It has indeed..

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Gain and Loss in the "Shield Oasis"

My hometown had several neighborhoods whose name started with the word Neve (oasis). The oldest and most famous was Neve Magen - The Shield Oasis. This neighborhood (adjacent to ours) , was established for the families of high rank officers in the Army. It had little streets with private cute houses and with a very special atmosphere, that of a community with common interests. In tense times (during pre-war,war, post-war), the atmosphere became that of a close family.

A haute-couture seamstress whose clientelle was based almost entirely on the wives and daughters of those army officers lived in our vicinity. One day she turned to me ,a high -school girl, and asked whether I would be willing, after school hours, to keep an eye on a seven year old boy whose mother had died untimely on the previous year. I was to stay with him until his father, the officer, gets back from Headquarters or any of the grandparents show up, whatever comes first. I accepted the offer as the money was generous, the boy, Danny, seemed well behaved, and I was kind of excited to play 'little mother' to him.

One day, Danny came home from school with a black swollen eye. He got beatten by a classmate. The next day, our officer took the kid by hand and the two strolled towards the school building which was not far , to face the little agressor. The latter was not present as he got suspended from school immediately after the incident , so, our arrogant officer (yes, he was very arrogant) "spilled " it all on the young teacher. He accused her , in front of the whole class, of incompetence, lack of control and failure to impose discipline, threatened to have her fired , and finally made her burst into tears.

When father and son came back home, the boy entered his tiny room, locked the door, and refused to eat and/or talk to his father. He cried loudly and bitterly repeating between the heartaching sobs the one question :how dare you talk like this to my beloved teacher?.

I approached the officer and told him he must go look for the teacher ,apologize in front of her, and ask her to come talk to the boy. Since he loved his child more than his arrogance, he did that. He arrived with the teacher . The boy unlocked the door and fell into her arms, still neither looking at, nor speaking to his father. The teacher was invited to stay for dinner. She stayed for dinner, and then... stayed forever. It all happened very fast: the officer had fallen in love with her, asked her to marry him and insisted that she quit her job as a teacher.

I was very proud to have been the 'architect' of all this happy end. However, I was also aware of the fact that the three were winners, I was the loser in this story. They all got Love plus something: the teacher got a loving husband, the officer got a loving wife, the boy got a loving stepmother and private teacher , whereas I was about to lose a job with good money.
As they say : One person's Gain is another Person's Loss.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

From Dover to Calais

Every now and then I make plans to join a cruise, but nothing comes out of these plans as I am afraid of seasickness, 'mal de mer', as the French call it. This kind of fear prevents many people from taking a cruise vacation; it's no secret that seasickness can turn a pleasant trip into a miserable, embarrassing experience.

I 've been on boats and ferries for short trips, never on a big cruise ship. I'm told a big ship has huge stabilisers and so less motion. The larger the ship the less it will rock, and if you position yourself in a midcabin, that is, in the center ,where the least motion is felt, and prior to the voyage you take some precautions , then the chances of not getting seasick are very good.

I'll never ever forget the ferry voyage across the british channel or as the french call it La Manche ( the sleeve), from Dover port in south-east England to Calais port on the northern coast of France. The channel is " an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates England from northern France and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic" (Wikipedia) . The most cheap and convenient way to cross the channel was by ferry, departures occurring every thirty (30) minutes.

On the day of the voyage the sea was rough, but visibility was good and the service to Calais was running normally. On the ferry, people around me were talking, laughing, eating, having fun , and only I had terrible nausea, and loss of color in my face. Even the color of my eyes, normally green, was fade and lifeless. An english lady wanted to help and gave me something to smell, but that made things worse and I began to vomit and feel cold. At this point, I was willing to accept medical intervention. I was administered an injection which brought about quick relief.

The trip lasted for about an hour, but for me it seemed like eternity.
Looking back, I think that a bottle of soda water would have done a good job from the start in helping me get rid of the nauseous feelings, but for some unknown reason I forgot to ask for one.

They say the cause of seasickness lies in some disturbance in
the inner ear. There are lots of theories as to what could prevent it, but I knew almost nothing about that at the time. Anyway, the most mentioned tips to deal with seasickness are: accupressure wrist bands, ginger capsules, scopolamine patches behind the ear, taking deep breaths, being on the deck in the fresh air facing forwards , staring in the distance and not focusing on the moving ship etc...

By the way, WHY did the wave rush up on to the beach? IT was feeling seasick.