Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Footsore for Peace 2: Of Love and Mosquitoes

During the summer of 2008, I participated in a walk that was organized by a group called "Voices for Creative Nonviolence."

Here is a link to the Voices for Creative Nonviolence website: 

People from Voices for Creative Nonviolence visit war zones and focus on forming relationships with ordinary civilians living in dangerous areas. In 2008, their focus was on Iraq. Voices for Creative Nonviolence organized a walk, called the Witness Against War walk, that started in Chicago on July 12th and ended in Saint Paul, Minnesota, on September 1st. The total distance was approximately 500 miles. The goal was to draw attention to the suffering that ordinary people experienced in war zones. Several of the walkers had spent time in Iraq. Some had brought medicine and toys to Iraq in violation of the sanctions in the 1990s. There were also people from Voices from Creative Nonviolence who were in Iraq during the “shock and awe” bombing campaign in 2003. One of our walkers was an Iraq war veteran, who had joined the U.S. Army shortly after 9/11. He experienced the horrors of war first hand. After he left the military, he became a member of “Iraq Veterans Against the War.”

We walked anywhere from six to nineteen miles per day. Occasionally, we had rest days, when we could relax, sightsee, climb steep hills, draw, paint, or practice musical instruments. The story that I am telling today is about the joys and hazards of nature.

On the morning of July 23rd, I woke up in the home of our hosts for the previous night, Ruth and Glenn. Walkers had been placed with various host families. Two of us, Kathy and I, were placed with Ruth and Glenn. They had told us the tale of their courtship and marriage. They met in the 1950s and, a month after they met, they left the country. Ruth spent three years working as a dietician in Egypt. When the Suez Canal crisis occurred in 1956, she had to leave because the Egyptian government expelled all of the foreigners. She traveled to Switzerland, where Glenn was working. During those three years of being apart, Ruth and Glenn had conducted a courtship via mail. They still have the letters that they had written to each other.

Glenn was in Switzerland, working on a business deal. He had previously served in the U.S. Army in Germany, which, at that time, was occupied by several armies.

Ruth and Glenn are now the parents of three grown daughters and one grown sons. They also have several grandchildren. I suggested to Ruth and Glenn that their very romantic story would make a beautiful book. Glenn said, “I am writing a book about our story for the grandchildren.”

Ruth and Glenn gave Kathy and me a breakfast of oatmeal, fresh fruit, toast, and juice. Ruth, the dietician, added flaxseed to the oatmeal to make it even more of an anti-cholesterol food than it already is (oatmeal has soluble fiber, which is an anti-cholesterol feature).

Glenn drove Kathy and me to the spot where we had stopped walking, just outside of Waukesha. A photographer was out to take pictures of us. We said goodbye to Steve, a support car driver, who was headed home, and Kathy, who was leaving the walk temporarily to give a presentation in Joliet, Illinois.

Then we started walking. We walked past barns, cows, cornfields, and bean fields. We walked on a busy highway, with vehicles whizzing past us. Later in the morning, a man who had been one of the hosts brought Helene’s forgotten sweater to her. He directed us to the bike path, called the Glacial Drumlin State Trail. We walked through various wetlands. The terrain was somewhat hilly. That provided a new challenge for the adventure. We had previously walked on flat land. For the first time, I observed fatigue and tightness in my legs.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch in a Mexican restaurant. After lunch, we returned to the bike path. We then encountered Tim and Bob, who had driven from Chicago to rejoin the group. Walking on the bike path was interesting. There were short trees with red cone-shaped seed pods and all sorts of wild flowers. We even saw some sort of mini-car race on a nearby track.

All of a sudden, our peaceful world had evaporated. We were under attack. We were swarmed by mosquitoes. They began to feed on us, and we tried to smack them. That proved to be ineffective. We then sprayed ourselves copiously with insect repellant in almost-futile attempt to fend the mosquitoes off. It was very smelly. The only thing that I managed to repel with all of that insect repellant was me. It was almost like a horror movie.

We had been walking for a long time and had become very silly. I had started telling the story of all of my twins, evil and otherwise. There is the evil twin, whose name is Malice. The twin who really doesn’t want to do anything is named Malaise. The sad twin is called Alas. She spends a lot of time with her best friend, Alack. After the multiple twin conversation, we shifted to planning a Wizard of Oz skit so that we could try not to notice that the mosquitoes were still eating us alive. We handed out roles for the performance. We had good witches, bad witches, a scarecrow, a flying monkey, munchkins, Toto, and, of course, Dorothy, who just wanted to go home. 

By late afternoon, my feet were very sore and I was convinced that the day’s walk was to be endless. From a distance, I saw something that looked familiar. It looked like the support bus, otherwise known as the “wheels of justice” bus.

Tim and I were walking together. Or should I say, we were struggling to walk together. Our pace had slowed to glacial.

“There’s the bus,” I said weakly. I struggled to lift my arm, which felt unusually heavy, as if it were filled with bricks, and I pointed.

“What bus?” Tim asked. He looked both tired and confused.

“Our bus.” I pointed weakly again. I started to wonder if the bus that I had seen was a mirage. Nevertheless, Tim and I walked toward the bus and, finally, we arrived at the spot where the bus was parked. It was not a mirage. We had walked sixteen miles. It felt more like twenty.

The walker group had a meeting and discussed the Obama rally to which we had invited the next day. It included a picnic, which meant free food. That sounded good to me. We all got on the bus and went to Deb and Paul’s house, a huge house where all of us were staying.  Paul told me part of his story. He said that he used to work in publishing and that his employer was a company that owned eight magazines. Readers Digest bought out that company and kept it until it was bought out by someone else. “The publishing industry is in bad shape, and it is only going to get worse,” Paul said. Deb talked to us about permaculture, an agricultural system that is meant to be sustainable and self sufficient.

In the evening, before I went to sleep, I remembered one of the people whom I met on the walk. Linda, in Brookfield, near Milwaukee. She talked to me about the need to repair the world. Linda said that it is a principle in Judaism that involves acts of kindness and community service to create a better world and to repair the brokenness in the world. In effect, enough acts of kindness could potentially repair the world.

The mosquito bites were very itchy. As I went to sleep, I wondered why the world was so broken and in need of so much repair.


Cerebrations.biz said...

I am so glad I wasn't on that trip. Because there is something in my constitution that makes mosquitos find me and avoid all others. I have the welts to prove it!

Jlupinacci said...

I hate mosquitoes. I might have given up under such relentless attacks. Good for you for sticking to it. Great post!