The Sauna Supplement
So, I think I’m maybe getting my head slowly back together, and I am very appreciative to two friends who messaged me today: ‘read your blog, are you OK’, and ‘stop your whining freak’. I’m very appreciative to have such cool friends, and if those words came from anyone else, they would probably deserve a slap, but these words came from two friends who have known me a long time and through far worse than what I’m experiencing now. They have both been around through highs and lows, and likewise, I’m always available for them too. Both Brits, and who in true Brit style can use humour to lighten the mood. So, thanks guys, really appreciate it.
I’m actually surprised to discover that anyone even reads my blogs to be honest, so that is a revelation! Feels a little like an episode of Eastenders right now, what with all my emotional drama….but sure it will be back to usual dull soon enough!
I’m not saying that things are resolved or that I have conquered my internal demons, but I do want to try and share some of the more positive stuff. I’ve had some cabin fever since we arrived, I’m an outdoor person at heart and being surrounded by such stunning scenery and feeling trapped indoors never does me good. Just as it is at Christmas time, when you have to stay indoors and try and find talking points with family that you don’t even speak to the rest of the year, yet here you are stuck in the same room for three days in front of a tv with nothing on and talking about how terrible the government is, weather, or whatever.
But I escaped for a little while today, and I was back for a moment, my old and happier self, happy and loving the sound of the birds, and snow slipping off sun warmed roofs, and bells of the old church ringing. It was just peaceful and warm and snow cold cheeks. Back in my own world…free! I wonder if that is how parents feel when they have young children? Stuck indoors all day, and desperate to nip out for some respite?
I visited the local school, the church, the shops, the town, the ski shop, and found a great place for a hot chocolate. I want to twin my geography classes at school with the geography classes at the school here in Wagrain, but I can’t do so until I know what the decision is about my lessons and things, so I hope I get the answers this week and in time before we leave. The church is also very cool, although funny to see the snow so high up that it covers almost the top of the tomb stones, which were almost over my head. It was this church where the carol ‘silent night’ was written, and the church is old and cool, and , well…..not Georgian! Don’t get me wrong, Georgian churches are great, but they can feel a bit samey after a while, and it was just nice to go to a church that was different, but more normal for me. It had rows of seats for a start and no icons or people crossing themselves!! People seem very friendly here, and though one or two locals were complaining about the tourists who were staying in their hotels or eating in their restaurants, they have generally been really nice so far, and I’m loving being around Europeans again. People saying please, and thank you, and excuse me, and I really like the sense of personal space that I am more familiar with, and people smiling or saying hello in the street or shops…being acknowledged. And it is super nice to be surrounded by people who look different to Georgians, and who I can understand when they speak, and who wear bright colours….I’ve missed colour in my life! Even though the pavements are snow covered, there are no potholes, pavements are where they are supposed to be, and cars drive on the roads. Things are just structured and you know what is what. When you order food, it is as it should be, if you order chicken you get chicken, not beef or pork or whatever is left.
Its like a breath of fresh air after Georgia! Walking around the corner shop was fantastic. They even sold maltesers!!!!! I haven’t seen those in ages, and they had loads of different vegetables, peppermint flavours, salt and vinegar flavours, different vinegars and stock cubes, and just so many things I miss in Georgia. I knew what stuff was, there was no mystery and I was even able to read the labels and know what things were exactly….and they were all in date! I actually ended up not buying anything because I was so overwhelmed!
I love being able to have a decent shower whenever I want, there have been no electricity or water cuts, and its warm. The towels and sheets are super clean and feel lovely and fresh, and I have a bed, not just any bed but a really comfortable one, and for the first time in ages, my back is not aching! One of my Christmas things I promised myself was to buy a bed and mattress when I get back, and hopefully some decent bedding too. I miss having a proper bed so much, and now the room is pretty much finished, the bed is the thing I have wanted most since I moved in over summer. And I’ve been saving up for ages.
I have found a fab place to go for a decent hot chocolate, covered in whipped cream, and served with maltesers. It is just as I imagined an après ski type place to be, and is full of what I always imagined skiers to look like. It’s the coolest place, a real retreat, not expensive. And best of all, it reminds me of my favourite restaurant chain in London: Gauchos. Its got all manner of quirks in its design, and the staff are super nice, especially if you go when everyone is off skiing and they are more relaxed. Not exactly sure why they are all in shorts though, but am assuming it is the traditional thing to do in Austria, especially for tourists. But it’s a cool place to hang out and relax.
Kind of funny to be in that kind of place, and reminds me so much of the life I had in London, at the height of my career. The days when I worked hard, had money but no time, and the only people I saw of a day were the concierge to my apartment, my personal trainer at Champneys gym, my personal shopper at Selfridges, and my patients, not that they ever remembered since they all suffered from severe amnesia, to the point where even just leaving the room meant that you had to re-introduce yourself again! I don’t really miss that life, all work and no play. All my friends were city/investment bankers and it was all about how many apartments you owned, their postcodes, who owned a helicopter, and which resort you were off to for your skiing holiday. I do miss the material comforts, but I also don’t miss them either, and life is easier in many ways being free of such entrapments and pressures. It was never really a pressure for me to conform, I just wasn’t interested in that kind of stuff, but in order to proceed up the career ladder, there were certain expectations and not being from the right social level, school, or not wearing the right designer suit were always stumbling blocks or issues. I don’t miss that side of things at all, but I do love it when I have the chance to be in such luxurious surroundings again, and I love being able to have a kir royale or glass of champagne and not thinking about how much other stuff I could have brought with that money.
I am much richer now, just in other ways, and perhaps part of my problem is that I’m transitioning from a western style of richness to a more spiritual and less materialistic one. And with that comes conflict, especially when the principals are against what friends or family consider to be the norm. My granny loves her neighbours who are my age. They are married, live in houses worth a million or so pounds, have young kids who attend private schools, and own yachts that they take out on the river during regatta, and when they are not out playing golf or whatever. My granny has always encouraged us to live this kind of life and so my being in Georgia and a failure at pretty much everything is a bitter disappointment to her no doubt. But that kind of life is just not me, and is my idea of hell. To me it is the relationships which are most important, not the money. It is nice now and then though.
I really like the area here, its beautiful, and the hotel is great. The staff are nice and very tolerant of the kids and their foreign ways, and the food is very good, not that the kids appreciate it. I’ve spent a little bit of time with some of the kids today and its nice that the parents have gone away, and things seem a little more organised now and kids are much better behaved. Now there is a boss in charge, rather than lots of people but no one, so that feels a lot better in itself. Was nice to chat with a few of the older ones today, find out what makes them tick, etc. I do really like them on the whole, but I think the issue has been too many cooks and so no consistent boundaries.
One major plus of staying in a hotel, is being able to have a sauna everyday, and in the evening, it has been empty so far and is a great place to escape for a little bit. It is very clean and well designed, but I have to say that I prefer our family sauna in Latvia, it has more character, even if it is a bit more rustic and not so clean. But this one is more traditional and very nice. The best thing is that there is a door leading outside, so you can bob out between saunas for a snow shower and rub down. Then come back inside and warm up again. The sauna doesn’t get as hot as our one in Latvia, but it is very decent all the same. Our sauna in Latvia is great fun, but a lot of work and takes all day to prepare as we have to get the fire going, bring the wood in, bring the water from the well and so on. Then it takes time to get hot. But there is nothing better than rubbing yourself down with chunks of sea salt, or local honey, steaming away, and then running to the beach for a moonlight or naked swim in the icy cold Baltic Sea, rushing back and then doing it all over again, before beating your skin or each other with birch branches, before having a wash in a big old barrel of water. Its traditional in Latvia, and I rather naively thought that Georgia, being post Soviet would have similar traditions. So I was disappointed to discover this wasn’t the case.
In fact, I think Georgians have a rather poor view of saunas and instead see them as something more seedy and trashy, and like so many great things in Georgia, they are actually really expensive. All sports seem to be ridiculously expensive in Georgia, apart from skiing, which almost every Georgian does…..total opposite to Britain, where skiing is generally reserved for upper class people or university students.
So, even if I come back from Austria a total wreck emotionally, at least my skin will be good from all the sauna time!!
And just for the record, I wasn’t expecting to come here for a free holiday, I came to work and to do the best I could. The issue is not about having to work instead of go out skiing, its about being accountable and not putting myself in a position where I don’t feel comfortable. It is not that I was ill prepared, I was, but Georgians are very spontaneous, and if things are not communicated in a way that I am comfortable with, then it is better for me to step down and say that I am not comfortable, than to go along with things. It’s a personal and moral/ethical thing for me. The Lyme Bay Disaster is a classical case of this, and with the kids skiing above their ability levels and on their own, I don’t want to be held accountable for any accidents. I’m not shirking my responsibilities, I’m standing up and saying that I don’t feel comfortable with the new expectations of me that I never agreed to and would never have agreed to:
“The Lyme Bay kayaking tragedy was the deaths of four teenagers on a sea kayaking accident in the Lyme Bay area which led to legislation to regulate adventure activities centres working with young people in the UK.
As a result of a series of errors and circumstances, four of the teenagers drowned. The party had run into difficulties straight away as one kayak became swamped. The group was swept out to sea, where all their kayaks were quickly swamped.
The subsequent trial resulted in the prosecution of the parent company and the centre manager. The owner of the activity centre and the centre itself were convicted of corporate manslaughter over the deaths. This was the first conviction for this offence in the UK. The owner was jailed for three years, but his sentence was cut to two years on appeal. Thistragedy accelerated governmental discussions to end self-regulation of outdoor education centres. The Activity Centres (Young Persons’ Safety) Act 1995 was passed throughParliament in January 1995 and an independent licensing authority, the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA) was formed, funded by the Department of Education and Employment (DFE) and under the guidance of the Health and Safety Executive. On the 24 December 1998, six Venture Scouts were taken into Scottish avalanche conditions on Aonach Mor near Ben Nevis, in the ensuing avalanche, four scouts died. There was no attempt by the AALA at a conviction for corporate manslaughter against the mountain-guide leader (who survived)and no jail sentence was sought. On October 15, 2010, Lord Young of Graffham, recommended that the AALA be abolished and the existing statutory licensing regime be replaced by a code of practice. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/guide-is-cleared-of-blame-over-avalanche-deaths-626720.html”.
Friends have already said that I am accountable here in Austria because I should have found out all the details prior to coming to Austria and before agreeing to come on the trip. And I guess, that is my point exactly. I thought I had all the details and I had asked all the right questions. But that is where the cultural or ‘Georgian factor’ comes into play, as no matter how prepared you think you are, Georgians are spontaneous and things change quickly and without being communicated, or are communicated in passing or at the last minute. Not intentionally, but because Georgians are flexible and want to keep everyone happy, and they are used to adapting to change and very quickly. So if I am already accountable and seen as ill prepared, imagine how I would feel if I was out with the kids and something happened. By law I would be the one who went to prison, I’m certified and trained and therefore should know better. British law would have me, and so would European law. The Georgians are not accountable in that way as there is no such law in Georgia and they are not European.
It is my fault in that, I should have factored Georgian spontaneity into things, but then I was under the impression that everything was booked and organised by an external agent and that the kids would be having skiing lessons with an instructor every morning, and that I would be entertaining them after lunch and before dinner…..I was thinking more along the lines of board games, snowman building, not being accountable whilst others were off in Vienna for a couple of days, or them being off skiing alone above their skill level. I thought I had clarified that before we left, and yes I should have been more strict, but that is pretty difficult when you are the only foreigner in the group and people choose to ignore you. I am also not here as a Group Leader and it is not a trip that I organised. I am here as a teacher supporting the trip. Its definitely a morale dilemma and is something that I think others should think about too, especially when working in Georgia. It isn’t that Georgians are bad or disorganised either, it is more that changes happen fast and spontaneously and people are happy to go with the flow and everyone takes responsibility to look after each other, and they have a strong faith in icons and in trusting that they will be fine. I come from a culture where people sue because they tripped on a pavement that had a crack in it, Georgians come from a culture where the pavements are full of cracks and have jagged metal bars sticking up all over the place. Its a matter of what is culturally comfortable. In Georgia, I feel better because I play by Georgian rules, but now we are in Europe we are playing by European rules, that changes my accountability. I guess that is what I was getting at in my last blog when I said that I was confused about my national identity right now. Not because I want to be one or the other, but because the rules and social expectations have changed, and I’m now neither European or Georgian.
A similar issue occurred in my host family. The young kids were playing together, and the youngest one got injured by her brother and stopped breathing. The cleaner was hysterical and I had to physically fight with her in order to get the youngest off her, and to do CPR. Thankfully she was fine, but it shook me up especially as the attitude was one of, ‘oh well kids are kids, it happens and she is fine’. There were no trips to the doctor or hospital, and I didn’t want to be left alone with the kids again. I’d never agreed to it in the first place, nor was I aware that I was alone (aside from the cleaner who was sleeping on the job). In those situations, with foreigners working as volunteers in the house ‘teaching English’. Who is accountable? Especially if parents decide to prosecute, and it is the volunteer who has to live with that for the rest of their life. Remember the case of the British au pair, who was accused of murdering the baby in her care whilst on a gap year in the USA? It amounts to the same thing. Turns out, the baby died because of injuries inflicted by the parents who had shaken it to death.
So perhaps I am over reacting here in Austria, perhaps I am just being sensitive, but I like to know my responsibilities before I sign on the dotted line, I like to know I have thought things through and that things won’t change too much, and that I am always prepared for the inevitable or unlikely.
Geography teachers in the UK and Europe probably face the toughest decisions these days. Field trips are a necessary part of the curriculum, but also come with a massive sense of responsibility, and no matter how organised you are and well informed when things go wrong, everyone always wants to know who is to blame. Last year I was selected to Lead an expedition with BSES to the Himalayas and to undertake research at base camp on the effects of altitude on human physiology. I was more than up for it and well trained, but med school wouldn’t let me go as they said it was not relevant and wouldn’t give me my term or exam dates.
I knew the risks and all the details and felt well prepared and they are really focused and organised with training weekends, and so forth, and I still have every confidence in them and respect them as an organisation. But others always look for a story when things go wrong, and its easiest to find someone to blame, no matter how well prepared you are. It is the risk that comes with spending time out in the wild, in nature, and in nature’s elements. You cannot predict or prepare for everything and accidents will always happen, its just a question of how prepared you are to deal with the consequences.
You can easily argue that the school ‘ski trip’ is not the same as an expedition. But if things go wrong, then the consequences are exactly the same. If I take kids from my classes on geography trips around Georgia, we also have bears and so there is always a risk, no matter how small it might be. And a girl and her father recently got killed by a bear on a day trip in the Caucasus, so the risk is ever present. One teacher in America is also being sued and children are now undergoing counselling after she took them on a school day trip to a farm to see where their food came from, perhaps not the best place for a school trip, but also a fact of life that they need to know about! (http://newsweak.com/news/school-field-trip-tour-of-slaughterhouse-traumatizes-children). But knowing the guys involved in the BSES trip to the arctic, it perhaps has made me even more aware of what can happen when things go wrong, and that means that if the kids here choose to ignore me or think I am just telling them off to be cruel, I can’t take the risk and be a part of that, it is not what I agreed to. And it makes me really uncomfortable. I’ll post a story about what happened on the recent BSES expedition and the accusations that followed as I know that BSES and the guys involved were not accountable and were trained and ready, and I would hate to be put in a similar position especially with the media, if one of our kids was injured or caused an injury to others and I was the adult in charge and my argument was ‘I told them not to, but they didn’t listen to me, they always do what they want’. The article is from the Telegraph newspaper in Britain:
“In the first eyewitness account of the tragedy, Patrick Flinders, 16, relived his ordeal and told how the animal attempted to crush him to death in Norway.
Just moments earlier the 550-pound bear had mauled Eton student Horatio Chapple, 17, to death and injured several others after entering the camp in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.
Patrick, from St Helier, Jersey, told how the animal had left him with extensive physical injuries and psychological trauma while camping on the Von Postbreen glacier.
The teenager defended himself by lashing out at the wild animal as it tried to crush him to death during the rampage on the island of Spitsbergen, in the country’s north.
Special tripwires designed to scare off the bear had failed to fire. It is not known who put up the trip wire but there are fears it was not set up properly, which is a factor currently under investigation by Norwegian police
The group of 13 young Britons had been on a five-week expedition in the remote region in the Arctic Circle earlier, which had been organised by the British Schools Exploring Society, the charity.
In a series of interviews on Sunday Patrick, who spent several weeks in hospital, gave a harrowing account of the attack but denied being a hero.
He said he learned of the group’s leaders, Michael ‘Spike’ Reid, 29, and Andy Ruck, 27 lack of experience during the first days of the tour.
Both leaders, had admitted never seeing a polar bear before. Meanwhile Mr Ruck had only embarked on one similar trip a decade and it was Mr Reid’s first expedition to the region. Both of the guides sustained severe head wounds.
His father now plans to sue event organisers due to the guides apparent lack of inexperience.
It was claimed the two leaders had also declined a suggestion from the group that an overnight bear watch be mounted, which had been urged previously by the local tourist board
He added it had not worried him because Mr Ruck had been in the Himalayas but “I guess there aren’t any polar bears there”.
The attack was so vicious he has been left with several large physical scars across his face and body and has been left with significant psychological trauma.
A wound around his head has been patched together by more than 20 metal staples and during plastic surgery, doctors removed fragments of the bear’s teeth from his skull.
Patrick, the youngest of the group, said suddenly his tent collapsed with “huge force behind it”. After thinking the group had scared off the bear they sat still terrified it would return.
He then watched in horror as the bear grabbed Mr Reid in his jaws after his gun failed to fire four times. He watched it advance with “its jaw snapping”,
“Its nose was covered in blood, all around it. I was terrified, really scared then,” the comprehensive school student said.
“At that moment, I thought I might die. I closed my eyes tight.
“The next thing I knew it had its jaws around my arm and it was squeezing hard. I didn’t feel pain but I could feel my bones crushing.”
He fought back with his fists in a desperate bid to escape as he could “feel it crushing my skull” and hearing it crack as the animal continue to growl.
“I wasn’t thinking of anything, I just wanted it to be over,” he added.
“I’m not a hero. I punched the polar bear because I was fighting for my life, not because I wanted to fight it.”
The student, who lives with his 58 year-old father Terry, a retired department store window cleaner, was so overcome with fear he cannot say how long the ordeal lasted.
He is wracked with guilt that Horatio, whom he shared a tent with died, likely from being crushed by the animal, but he denied being a hero.
Yesterday, Horatio’s father, David Chapple, a neurosurgeon, said eyewitnesses had said his son, a keen rugby player, had been “standing up, facing the bear”, and not asleep or lying down as first reported.
Amid the confusion, it took several minutes for them to realise Horatio had been killed. The aspiring doctor’s funeral was held on Friday at Salisbury Cathedral, Wilts.
The BSES reportedly advised Patrick against contacting Horatio’s family through Skype during the wake because it would have been “insensitive” to them.
Patrick, a descendant of Captain Matthew Flinders, the explorer who circumnavigated Australia in 1803, raised the £4000 cost of the trip himself fund-raising and selling old toys and DVDs at a car-boot sale.
His father, who has separated from his 46 year-old mother, Elizabeth – who lives with his 11 year-old sister Felicity – plans to launch legal action against the BSES because there “should have been more experienced guides with them”.
Last night Edward Watson, the BSES Chairman, declined to comment on the allegations that the leaders were inexperienced.
He said the charity would soon announce who would head up an independent inquiry into the tragedy headed up by high profile chair that would set the record straight.
“From our perspective we just are not in a position to comment on any speculation and varying accounts of what happened,” he said.
“This is the whole reason why we are setting up in independent inquiry so it can be looked at dispassionately and we don’t wish to put a slant on this. I am sorry not to be any help on this.”
Neither leader could be reached for comment”.