I first met Roz Savage at the Explore weekend at the Royal Geographical Society in South Kensington, London. She looked like an average Jo really, not too tall, just ordinary height, normal sized arms and legs, some freckles, and a crop of wavy blond hair, and a big smile. She was lovely to talk to, and it was nice to meet her and chat for a bit about really very normal, everyday stuff, over a cup of tea and a packed lunch. Until recently, Roz was working in London as a Management Consultant, and had been doing so for the past 11 years. Nothing so extraordinary there really, just a very down to earth, typical London lady.
So, it really came as quite a surprise to find out later, that this rather petite girly looking girl had recently returned from a solo row across the Atlantic. She was joking right? I mean, ocean rowers should be big and muscly and ten foot tall, with beards, and eye patches and talk like pirates. How could this slip of a thing possibly have rowed across a big ocean, and all on her own too?? Now, that might not sound like much, rowing across an ocean on your todd, or like a big deal in any way at all, especially if you say it fast like that. Few months, at sea, at one with nature, beautiful sunshine, no boring work to go to, nice tan….sounds like a holiday to me, and all at the expensive of others. I mean what is the point of that? Why not just get a proper job instead of fannying around on a boat??
Roz is the the source of constant arguments between my father and my myself, but really in a very positive way, and if she has achieved nothing else with her ocean rowing, then she has at least, given myself and my estranged father something to talk about, an interest, and a common point. It was at my graduation, that my father decided that he wanted to study, and he had been inspired by how I had studied full time with the Open University whilst working full time. I guess it was a challenge too, that if I could do it, then so could he, and to top it off he would see if he could get a higher grade than me (he didn’t by the way, thank goodness for me or I would never have lived that one down!). I knew he always loved nature, but I was still pretty surprised when he decided to take a degree in environmental science. Not really the macho kind of subject I would have expected of him.
He took to it really well, and I am still immensely proud of his achievements, and I think he also has a new respect for me in obtaining my degree and in realising that degrees don’t just come in cereal packets for lucky finders. I did it in half the time he did his, and he wasn’t working when he did his. But, he did have other battles to contend with, and for that I have so much more respect for him these days. Back in 2000ish I think it was, he was living in Germany and working in construction, on steel and glass buildings, long hours, lots of stress, and always away from home. He started to develop strange problems with his eyes, but no one knew why or what was going on. His company paid for expensive MRI scans of his brain, and did lots of tests on him, but they couldn’t figure it out. Luckily, I was working at the best Neurological hospital in the world at that time, and I was also better off financially, so I paid for him to see a neurologist privately when he came over to London to see my Nan who wasn’t very well, as I had an inkling at what was going on, but wasn’t 100% sure. And there it was, after two years or so of testing, he finally had a diagnosis. Benign essential Blepharospasm (BEB).
BEB basically just means that the eyelids (blepharo) don’t work properly, in effect the eyelids stay shut. Its a weird condition, no one really knows what causes it, but it is thought to be due to a chemical signalling problem originating from the basal ganglia of the brain. That was it, his company retired him on health grounds, as there was no way he could work up at great heights on roofs when he couldn’t open his eyelids. And so started, a new regime for him. Botox injections to open his eyelids, tape to close them when he wanted to sleep, and an effort to avoid stress. All great, until you want to blink or moisten your eye, or want to sleep, and before long the injection wears off and you need more injections.
Luckily for him, there came a few changes for the better in my father’s life. We had previously purchased a windmill together on the Baltic Sea on the border of Latvia and Lithuania, and between his UK pension and German pension, he might just be able to make ends meet. We bought the mill, and did work, and he and my step mum at that time moved from Bavaria in Germany to my step mum’s ancestral home on the Baltic coast. Her family were from that area of Latvia, then Lithuania, but were sent to Siberia by Russian soldiers who laid claims that her family were helping the Partisans. They were not young folk, and they lost everything, and God knows how awful it must have been to know that friends had dobbed you in to the soldiers, regardless of whether you were helping Partisans or not. I can’t imagine it was any easier for those friends either, more than likely forced into signing confessions, in order to protect their own families. We spent several years re-claiming her family’s lost lands, over 100hectares of beautiful grounds, split across the border of Latvia and Lithuania, some of it on the new harbour in Klaipeda (now worth a lot, so no chance of getting that back), and some now looked after by the World Wildlife Fund in Pape). Much of the land and buildings are inhabited by families who moved in after the family were sent away, and that is a very strange position to be in, do you evict them, or fight them, or just let things go and let them continue living in their family homes?? Its all a pretty complicated mess. We spent years trawling through KGB files in Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, and elsewhere, and I can tell you that it was in no ways as cool as it sounds. I had no biological connection with these people, but to see their signatures and fingerprints and confessions and writing there on paper, wondering whether they had written those under duress or with sweaty palms, was a little creepy and chilling to the core. Just getting hold of such documents was a tough job, very cloak and dagger, and to get copies or be allowed to remove them from the building was still quite a task. These were really important documents, a mark of a moment in time. Here we were handling history and trying to undue what time had done to the family, meddling in things beyond us and outside of our field of expertise. It took a lot of translation, I can tell you that, and it was the most complicated jigsaw puzzle ever. There was no lovely map of the lands, or piece of paper with a check box and to do list. It was investigative work and a huge paper chase across countries and through different languages and cultures, and times. No mean feat at all, and I wasn’t the one doing the work either!
We were extremely lucky as we had the bloody minded determination and the funds to fight to get some of the grounds back, but most local people in the same situation as us, do not have those opportunities, and will likely never be able to claim back their grounds. Eventually we won some of the land back, and accepted other parcels of land in lieue of the ones now worth money that we would unlikely ever get back.
But, it was a really fascinating process, and good to feel a connection with the people who had gone before, and even to speak to people who remembered the family and went to school with them, and had only nice things to say. People were still afraid of talking about days gone by, in case they would get into trouble, they were really still quite traumatised I suppose. But over the past ten or more years, we have got to know local people very well, and both Latvia and Lithuania have gone through immense changes since then, especially now they have joined the EU. It is such a different country to the cold and dark one that I first came across in the 90s.
Anyway, so my father and my stepmother drove all their belongings from Augsberg in the South of Germany, up through Berlin, and took the ferry to Klaipeda and then drove to Palanga, the two of them, their worldly possessions and two giant, dribbling and excited schnauzer dogs. All went pretty well and they settled in and continued to work on the mill. That is, until my stepmother had an argument with the neighbours and got in a fight with them. To make matters worse they went to court, and the relationships became quite sour with the neighbours, who were also her distant cousins. It was bad timing in some ways, as times were changing in the village with joining the EU, the fish smokery closed and the neighbour lost his job as a Border Guard since the border would no longer exist. I personally, never had any issue with the family, they were always kind to me, and I still have a lot of time for the children in the family. But, its easy to understand too how generations of not trusting others and being afraid of repercussions and being under soviet rule, could lead one to become a little feisty, and I am sure it was down to difficulties and foul play on both sides. My stepmother was also extremely headstrong and was always up for an argument about something or other, and she was never the most popular person.
On moving to Latvia, my father’s life really changed, not over night obviously, but its great to see him now. He is like a different person. Happy and smiling and quite the family man. In my new (Latvian) stepmum Maira, he has met his match. Someone who gets him, who is patient and supportive and nurturing, but is also self sufficient and independent and good at giving alternative views in a non confrontational way. And my stepsister Alise is also very good for him, teaching him to be a little less self focused and he really has in her, the relationship that he never had with me, since he missed out on that part of my life. They are a nice little family, and I am incredibly happy to see him now so settled and with good people. I guess that bond between them was really strengthened a few years ago, when he was home alone, in the remote village, and developed meningitis. They rallied around him at the hospital, and he is much more of a community minded person these days, and life seems to be treating him well on the whole.
He can no longer afford the botox injections for his eyelids, but because he has less stress in his life, and is now able to take naps to rest his eyes, his condition is much improved. He needs to wear a hat and sunglasses as the light affects his eyelids, but other than that, he does pretty well, apart from getting kind of frustrated and down over the long, cold, and dark winters where they live, and money is always tight.
But anyway, I digress. So, my father has now finished his degree in environmental science and spends a lot of his time working locally in conservation and in making his own scientific observations of the land around him. This makes life harder now, because whereas before, I was the one who had read all the theories, he is now the ‘expert’ and just like me, once he gets a bee in his bonnet about something, then there is really no reasoning with him, that and I hate discussions and confrontations. There are two things we disagree wholly on in life, and two things only……solar panels and ocean rowing (aka Roz!).
Now, my father is pretty much full of conspiracy theory and is really disillusioned with politics and the British scene, and with every right too, and which I can fully understand. However, we don’t agree on lots of fundamental things when it comes to the environment, even though we are both passionate about it. Arguing with my father on this subject is futile, and ends in the same story about conspiracy and the media, and all being just a pack of lies. Like smoking being bad for you. My father has smoked all of my life, and even when I had asthma attacks, he failed to see that there was a connection between my attacks only happening when I was around him smoking! To him it was more likely that I was weak, or a bad gene from my mother’s side, or from pollen. I have had allergy tests done, and I don’t have a pollen allergy, I am purely not able to cope with cigarette smoke! But, that is a life long battle we have, and comes down to the same futile arguments as the environment and Roz.
We disagree because I think that my father has in some ways given up hope that people can make a difference to the planet. He doesn’t understand how rowing across an ocean is going to help the situation, and he thinks that change needs to come from the top, not from the bottom. I can see his point, and in an ideal word, then yes, change would come from the top. However, my father is from a different generation to me. From an era where people took decisive action and protested. In his day, it wasn’t law to wear a seatbelt and even now, he chooses when he will wear it. He has grown up in a more rebellious generation to me, where people were not afraid to argue or to get into trouble. My generation just accepted that seat belt wearing was the law and that it was for our own good. Just in the same way, that my father believes that it is his free will to smoke, and doesn’t believe it will ever harm him. Pretty brave, coming from a man whose own father, a sailor in the Navy, died from a heart attack in his early 30s when my father was still a boy. One wold think that he would be more health conscious, but he doesn’t believe that such things will happen to him, and its all just the government’s way of trying to control your life through scare mongering. There is some truth in what he says, but I think he, like me, has a tendency to take things to the extreme and to only see or believe what we want to believe.
I’ve a little more experience in the world of academia than him, and even just from med school, know that sometimes the only way to get through modern life, is to just keep quiet, conform and do what you like anyway, when others are no longer around to judge. He however, thinks that is the approach of a weak person and ends up with people just walking all over you. Probably you need a little of both in reality. less confrontational, but more steadfast and strong.
I am probably a bit better with people than my father, who prefers his quietness and own company (as I do too), and isn’t one to suffer fools. His patience has also grown thinner since he developed blepharospasm and is probably due to his getting older too. He has a very good grasp of science, and I am sure that there is truth in his reasoning, but am not ready to throw in the towel yet either.
I believe in Roz, I know how the world works these days, and I know that the most important way to bring about change is to go in at a ground roots level, because to battle at the top is energy draining and slow. You can only bring about change at the top, bu putting pressure on them, on mass, and as a society.
I love Roz’s key motto: that it took her 3.5 million little oar strokes to row across the Atlantic. Each oar stroke was nothing on its own, but together was the difference in making the crossing or not. Basically, every little action adds up. From my experience that is what I know works, and is why I am passionate about supporting her and her cause. Until my father comes up with another alternative, its all I have got too! And it sure beats moaning about things and doing nothing to change things.
I’m going to quote from Roz here as her words speak from her heart:
“A lot of people don’t believe they can do anything to make a difference.
We can’t make other people do what’s right. But we can ensure that each of us as an individual does what’s right. Do your bit and encourage your friends, relatives and colleagues to do theirs.
You might think that your effort is just a drop in the ocean. But a drop spreads ripples.
I believe that our every word, every action, has consequences and effects far beyond what we will ever know. So I try to be mindful of the consequences of my actions, knowing that somewhere, somehow, they will have an effect.
If I throw this plastic bag into the river, might it end up in the sea, in the stomach of an albatross, inflicting a slow and painful death?
If I don’t recycle this glass bottle, then maybe not the next one, nor the one after that, over the course of my lifetime how many of my bottles will end up in landfill instead of being reused? Is that pile of bottles something I would want in MY backyard?
On the other hand, if I do the right thing – for example, if I ask for a paper bag in the store instead of a plastic one or, better still, take my own re-useable bag – might someone else notice my choice and decide to do the same?
If I take my reusable mug to the coffee shop instead of using a paper, plastic or styrofoam cup, how many disposable cups will I save in a year, in five years, in my life?
If I walk or cycle instead of driving to work – or even just park a mile short and walk the rest of the way – might I inspire my colleagues to do the same? How much gas money will I save in a year?
I found that when I started living in a more environmentally conscious way, it felt good. It made me feel like a better person. Give it a try and see if it works for you”.
And whilst I am a firm supporter of Roz and all she is doing, it occurred to me, that really I am just a background supporter. Admiring what she is doing, understanding and applauding it, but not REALLY supporting her. I don’t read her blog or listen to her podcast as often as I would like, and its always on my list of things to do, but I somehow never quite get around to it. I am 100% behind her, but I have NEVER sponsored her to row one mile on any of her 110 days of this Pacific row. Why is that? Because I have no money? Nope, thats not it. Because I think its pointless? Definitely not it?? Then why?? And it comes down to the sad fact that I have just never gotten around to it, there is always something else to do, and it has never made its way high up my list of priorities. I’m sad about that, and for the fact that despite being really passionate about she is doing, I am just sitting on the sidelines admiring her and her expedition, and not really embracing the full concept of it, or the hard ship she is putting herself through to prove a point and bring attention to her cause. I’m sad when I realise that she sometimes feels there is a lack of support for her from her own country, and that really rings bells with me. That is EXACTLY how I feel with the efforts I am putting into my projects and work with children in Georgia. And its only when I am on the verge of giving up, that someone will tell me how much they admire me or whatever, and I just think to myself, well if you were really THAT supportive and thought it was a great idea, then why am I the one doing all the work and begging for assistance? Why are people sitting on the sidelines and not taking action??
And it got me thinking, that perhaps, we are so much in awe of people like Roz, that we start to put them up on a pedestal and to see them as celebrities or amazing people, that we could never be like them, that they are no longer one of us. I mean, Roz must be loaded right. She doesn’t have a proper job, she is playing on her boat (now that boat wasn’t cheap I bet!), and she is travelling to cool places and meeting with amazing people, giving talks, and going on cruises with people like Leonardo De Caprio. What could I possibly have in common with her, and why does she need my $10 to sponsor her a mile? She must be loaded with all that publicity and all those new celebrity friends. And I guess, that is where, those of you who have been on expeditions know differently. What it means to put your heart, soul, and even your life on the line for something you really believe in, to know that you can achieve that goal even though you have no finance or skills or whatever behind you, and to know just how bloody hard you have to work to get expeditions, no matter how simple they seem, off the ground and running smoothly. Why is that?? Because we only get to see the expedition and post expedition part of the story, not the hours and stress and sleepless nights that goes into planning it. I wonder how many times Roz had to explain and justify her plans in the very beginning and how many people thought she was crazy or going through some kind of crisis because she wanted to leave a steady job to row across an ocean, on her own.
And I feel really bad, that even as a passionate supporter of Roz, I failed to fully comprehend what happened when one of her blog readers called the coastguards believing her to be in distress just miles from her destination. I failed to understand just what it must have felt like, to then be caught in an argument at sea with the coastguard, and to be forced to leave your boat in the sea, and winched up ad taken back to the start line, and to await the media. How does a person get over that experience and not lose the plot with anger? Another case of people interfering and thinking they are doing good, when they clearly have no understanding of what a person is capable of or what is in their best interest, and is a clear reason why we should all learn to LISTEN to each other more.
I wasn’t there for Roz, even though I had wanted to be. She shouldn’t be feeling unsupported by her own country Britain, or dealing with folk like my father who just don’t get the concept of what she is doing. Roz has been at sea now for 101 days, on a tiny boat, eating beansprouts she has grown herself, and trying hard to avoid sores on her bum and hands, and dealing with huge, cold, and very wet, and sticky waves. Why? Because its her way of bringing your attention to the bad state of our seas, and the need for change. On her journey, she is collecting data fo NASA to use in their computer models to predict climate change and weather systems, knowledge that will be used to enhance our understanding and prediction of weather in the future. Stuff that could fundamentally change a life in the future. She is talking to us and sharing information on what she sees on her journey, the kinds of animals, and such. She is taking photographs of pollution hotspots, bringing our attention to the fact that the fish she just caught for her dinner, had a stomach full of plastic. Where did that plastic come from? Probably from you, because you didn’t think it cool to use a recycled bag when you picked up your shopping. You didn’t want the rubbish in your back yard, so it was put in a landfill sight or was thrown in the river. Where do rivers go to? Oh yes, the sea. And where do seas connect to? Oh yes, that would be the world ocean. Fish live in those ocean, and they eat lovely bits of plastic. Bigger things eat those little fish, and then we eat those bigger things, and voila, we all have a little bit of that plastic in our bodies and blood stream.
Now, my father is not one for supporting Roz, but I bet that if she was campaigning about Mercury, then he would be all for it. Why? Because a doctor in Germany told him that the blepharospasm condition was the result of mercury poisoning from eating fish caught in polluted rivers, or maybe from the old fillings in his teeth. And it has cost him a small fortune in treatments to try and get the mercury out of his system too! I don’t know how much science is behind the suggesting neurologist’s theory, but it makes you think doesn’t it! And if it was the cause, then it could have so easily been prevented!
And so, I want to dedicate today’s blog to Roz, because she is always inspiring me to push on with my own work, and whilst we may be different people, our goals are also very similar. Roz wants to bring awareness to the plastic in the oceans, and I want to get plastic bag usage down to an absolute minimum in Georgia, because I am sick and tired of Georgians taking me to spectacular places, only to discover that they are covered in litter, and I am not prepared to smile politely and agree with them that Georgia has beautiful nature when its smothered with rubbish. It is just not acceptable in this day in age, whether the country is going through reform or not. You just don’t throw plastic or rubbish for that matter, into the rivers and streams and seas.
To show how much I believe in Roz, I am going to donate the last of the money I have to sponsoring a mile for her today. Why? Because I want her to know that the support is coming from Britain, from the heart, and because she is doing a stirling job, and no matter how alone she feels in that mission at times, she is never alone. I want to stop being a back bench supporter and to actually demonstrate to her that I am behind her 150%. And I really hope that you too will support her, and show her that Britain is proud of her and that she is a great advocate for our country.
Make your own little changes in your lifestyle too, follow her blog, listen to her podcasts, send her things like jokes and challenges to pass away those hours spent along at sea with just her thoughts. Celebrate Roz not just when she is on tv or getting ana award, but on the days when she is struggling too, and on those middling days. One thing I have learnt about Roz, is that she is a typical Brit, and often underplays what she is going through emotionally or physically. Its easy to read her blogs from the comfort of your home, and to read it as a story, something far removed, and not really real. This is real, it is the daily life of Roz, and she is not sat all cosy and warm and safe, she is constantly on guard, checking the weather, and watching out for the next waves. Some days she makes progress, other days she loses milage and goes back on her self. Its a daily battle, that none of us can imagine.
I want to show you a clip from Roz here, so that you can see that she is a real person, not just some celebrity, wining and dining and fooling us that she is working hard and ‘rowing’:
And if you really want to understand this more, then watch her TED talk:
Since this video, Roz has finished her journey across the Pacific, and is now on day 101 of her solo row across the Indian Ocean. You can support her in so many ways, here are a few:
– sign the petition to ban plastic bags in the London Olympics: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/2012-plastic-bag-free-olympics.html
– to sponsor a mile, go here: http://www.nomaddica.com/projects/roz-savage/eat-pray-row-the-indian-ocean
– to follow Roz’s blog, go here: http://www.rozsavage.com/
Keep up the amazing work Roz, we all love you and what you are doing, and are incredibly proud of you, even if you are going to fart like a tropper for the next six months after eating all those beansprouts!!!!
And btw, I have one question for you, that I am sure many people have asked you before…and that is….what are the toilet facilities like onboard???? Have you ever had any dodgy moments?? 🙂 If so, we would love to hear them, and perhaps to keep you entertained, we can share a few of our dodgy toilet stories too!!!!