Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Forum 2000, 2013 ed. - Dalai Lama, Suu Kyi and de Klerk

Once again I was able to attend Forum 2000. This year’s guests were overwhelming – while I had anticipated an appearance by the Dalai Lama I was completely taken aback by the grace and peace that radiated from Aung San Suu Kyi – you may remember her as the Nobel Peace Prize winning Burmese dissident who was under an illegal house-arrest some years back on an island when an American swam across, uninvited, to see her, stayed to recover his strength and then swam back – his intrusion earned her an additional sentence of 3 years of hard labor which was commuted to another 18 months of house arrest.

People talk about Audrey Hepburn as an iconic image, this slight wisp of a woman who carried an air of grace, elegance and benevolence. Suu Kyi is the personification of the ideology. As she settled in to her chair the dying applause was replaced with an almost palpable sense of ease and calmness. I had not read much about her prior to this event, familiar with her on only a surface level, and was completed unprepared for the experience her presence brought about. She is viewed as the modern day Gandhi for her non-violent activities devoted to ensuring appropriate care and representation for her people. The label assigned to her by Indians gives me a greater insight in to the force of Gandhi’s character.

Her warmth, kindness, care and compassion were neatly complimented by F.W. de Klerk, another Nobel Peace Prize winner, former President of South Africa and the man who freed Nelson Mandela and brought an end to apartheid.  Again, a man of compassion, integrity and wisdom whose presence was an entirely different force – not an oppositional one, but one that carried his kindness and gave a glimpse of a highly effective man.

Today’s closing ceremony was again inspirational – chaired by Gareth Evans, F.W. de Klerk was joined on stage by the former Czech Foreign Minister and the man who should be President, Karel Schwarzenberg, by the Cuban activist Yoani Sanchez, previously identified by Time Magazine, and others of that ilk as one of the world’s most influential people, one of the 10 most influential Latin American Intellectuals and one of the World’s Top Dissidents, and the Dalai Lama. Suu Kyi was seated in the front row and wrangled in to the discussion as well.

Let me say that I am grateful to the media today. Not that this event will receive the attention it warrants but because in the midst of the conversation taking place I was listening without reflecting; hearing in the moment and not fully processing, and the value of the words shared, while immediately apparent on one level, were not fully realized until I had some time to read them and sit with them and give some attention to the individual statements, both in context and as independent truths.

The love and compassion for people; the statement by the Dalai Lama that prayer and meditation were very nice but there is a stronger need for action; the evaluation of motivation; the need for selfless governance; the willingness to risk harm in order to ensure equality for others… there was so much more said, but not said in theory or remote observation but said by those who had lived it, who continue to live it, and who are focused on spreading it.

I was in the eighth row. This is a free event. I cannot encourage you enough, wherever you are, to make a point to attend it next year and to support it however you can now. Don’t think about what is wrong in the world and ponder what can be done to fix it, come and listen, learn, meet people who are focused on implementing positive change and live it.

Zofin Palace - primary space of the Forum 2000 - image from Forum 2000 website

Sunday, September 1, 2013

G20 and the Dali Lama

I have been home all weekend. I wish I could say I've been super productive and my house is all unpacked, decorated and sparkling clean but it's not. Food poisoning or something like it hit me Friday and I've been resting ever since.

It is now quite late on Sunday and I'm finally putting together some stuff for school. What am I looking at, you might wonder... well... some documents created by Seimens addressing the topic of transparency and anti-corruption for inclusion in the G20 Summit set to take place in Moscow later this week. Yes, Moscow, that haven for homophobia. Good lord, at this rate I'll never make it to St. Petersburg.

Surely that's not the only thing occupying your mind this lovely evening, you might say... well, you're right. I'm also review the topics at hand for the various panel discussions at Forum 2000 and noted I am set to attend a closed session with the Dali Lama. Yes, that Dali Lama.

The dichotomous nature of those two events in one mental space should create a rift in the time/space continuum. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

death and a departure

I haven't posted much lately; I've had a great two months with my kid while she's been in town - while it's been peaceful and relaxing it also seems as though we've been chock full with activity. We both hit a new decade and took some trips to celebrate. She got to reconnect with old friends and made some new ones. It is such a pleasure having here here. She left today. 

While she was here I moved, again. This time from a small place that was making me quite sick - mold - to a much larger and more spacious and healthy environment. The thing is - this has only been my home with her presence and now... now it's empty. Loomingly empty.

This week has also brought about news of the death of two friends - one I have known for 4 years but until this year thought of him as a strictly fun and party kind of guy. This year I got to know the inner bit and I found a lot of respect and a new appreciation for him. The other I've known for about 15 years and had a tremendous amount of respect for him. One lived here, one lived back in my hometown. The one here I saw with some frequency, the other I'd make a point to stop by and see him each trip home. One had recently expressed his desire to return home, move away from the partying and start a "real" more substantial phase of his life, the other was married, had children and was successful in his work life.

They both died of a heart attack. They were both far too young for such a thing. 

For some reason this is sticking with me. My local friend - we couldn't have been more different. But we both valued family and our friends and both of us knew this wasn't permanent. This was fun and temporary and offered a modicum of success in our respective career paths but didn't allow for opportunities in the ways we each wanted - familial connections and support and wider ranging financial and personal development in the work arena. 

I'm going to miss these people. They weren't a part of my daily life and they've not left a nagging hole but I'm accustomed to them and their role in my life and I enjoyed their company. I'm also stuck looking at the disparity of two men who died unexpectedly and the lives they led; trying to think about my own.

And, after dropping my kid off at the airport at 5 a.m. this morning and returning home to a hot bath, with these various forms of loss weighing on my mind I felt lonely. Not alone, but lonely. Empty and alone. For the first time in a long time. I think a hot dinner, a good night's sleep and some time will help to alleviate that; developing a new routine, putting my house in order will help to create a new sense of belonging, but right now this is where I'm at. At home. Alone. Sad. And lonely.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

June has been an apocalyptic month

We started off with massive flooding and fear. The anxiety in certain regions was palpable. The national State of Emergency lasted for the first two weeks of the month.

Last week they cleared away the flood barriers, most, not all, and reopened a number of the the parks. It was cold.

Immediately over the weekend we transitioned to a massive heat wave. There hasn't been a break. The national meteorological release has warned people to stay inside, reduce their activity, and increase their water consumption.

Not all parks have reopened since the flood.

Monday night, the first day of the oppressive, sweat in the shade sort of heat, a large portion of the city lost water.

Last night a power station blew and on the second evening of the heat wave, a night when fans were required in a country without residential air-conditioning, the power went out. It impacted the same area as the water loss and far beyond. Half a city of over a million people lost power. It was still sweltering. There is no nighttime cooling here. Fortunately just before the power blew I had taken a cool shower trying to wash the sticky sweat off my body and out of my hair. Even so, after cooling down and cleaning up, even with the fans running, I was sweating again, before the power went out. And then I had to start lighting candles.

I woke up at 6 a.m. The sun is harsh and the heat relentless.

Tonight I'm going to the gym. It's in an air-conditioned building and I will be swimming in a pool that usually feels quite cool but I expect will feel a bit tepid at this point. But I am looking forward it nonetheless. Afterwards I will be riding out to the airport to retrieve the kid. I just hope that when we get back, after her day and a half of traveling, that we have both water and electricity so she can clean up and get a nice, cool, comfortable night's sleep.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

I wanted to give a little cheer, instead I had a heartfelt smile

So, roundabout lunchtime narrative here... let's take it back a few months for a moment:

I moved last October. Apparently I left behind all of my warm weather shoes. I've been trying to get them back ever since but I think the girls who moved in have the same size foot as I do and have appropriated them for themselves as, despite an ongoing dialogue, they're never available for me to come by.

No, why am I talking about warm weather shoes when we've been on a flood alert? It was called off. We're officially in the clear - it happened within the last 24 hours. And now, it's really rather warm, rapidly approaching hot. People out and about in sleeveless shirts and shorts and such...

And I only have one pair of shoes that aren't winter shoes. And they're not comfortable. Tiny little ballet flats without any structure or support and so thin every little edge on each cobblestone seems to poke its way through the soles.

So today I went shoe shopping at lunchtime. Shoes are one of the things I've learned should be quality. Unfortunately, here, that means disproportionately expensive, but I know they'll last. So first I went to the Clark's store - but I struck out. Then Ecco and I found some. Some that are remarkably similar to the last past of Ecco sandals I bought a few years ago and to the pair my Mom bought in the past year or two too... but they're really, really comfortable and pretty good summer sandals.

That's not what made me want to cheer.

On the way back I took the metro to Mala Strana and then got out and waited for the tram. There was a long delay due to traffic and then I heard a police siren. I thought maybe there'd been an accident but it was only one car and he wasn't in a rush, in fact he was going pretty slow. And then, behind him, were a few oversized flatbed semi-type trucks.

My first thought was - what in the world? Why does an oversized load get a police escort? Then I saw what was on the flatbed - the individual components of the flood defense walls. The police were escorting the last bits of the river defense system away. And that made my heart a little brighter. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Prepping for part 2

The thunderstorms have just started. It's 6pm. At 3pm the metros finally fully reopened. Now we have received word that the river is expected to return to its peak within the next few days. Supposedly we're set for storming from now until Tuesday.

So often lately the forecasters have been dead wrong. I am so hoping this is one of those times.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The roar of silence - Turkey

Last night I had a conversation with a Turkish diplomat. We were at a small table with a few of my colleagues and the former ambassador to Algeria. Obviously the rioting was a topic of conversation.

I started to detail it here but have since changed my mind... here's the summary - it was sad. He seemed sad, or maybe a bit resigned, and didn't hold a lot of hope for effective change. He was pleasant but was quite contained and measured with his speech and focused on history and facts, addressed nationwide cultural conflicts and social unrest and what has brought things to where they are today rather than what is happening today.He also talked about the growing problems with Syria.He was neither an advocate nor a detractor of his government and its actions. His words were very matter of fact but the feeling was that he was being restrained and the pleasant little sparkle in his eyes and smile evaporated.
Silence sometimes speaks louder than words, especially when one is not permitted to speak an oppositional view.

If you don't know what I'm referring to please open a new window and do some research. You should keep in mind the proven efficacy of social media and know that it's been completely shut down at this point. More State controlled silence.

Families are being gassed out of their homes and then beaten in the streets when they flee.People are being shot point blank with tear gas canisters and a number of people have lost their eyes and/or been permanently blinded. Unarmed civilians, tourists, and protesters alike are receiving direct blasts from water cannons - the force of which can render one unconscious. This information is easily ascertainable. The US and the EU have both condemned Turkey's actions.

Please pay attention. Be aware of what is happening in the world at large, not just your region. The Arab Spring is far from over.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Prague zoo - please help

The Prague Zoo has again been completely devastated. After the 2002 floods they built a 20 foot wall to protect the zoo for further potential flooding. It proved to be insufficient. Fortunately they started evacuating animals earlier enough to save them from drowning (with very few exceptions, two stoats and a rabbit that they couldn't get out of their burrows) and relocated them to higher ground and other zoos. Now the Prague Zoo is facing over 160,000 million crows in repairs and renovations. That number is the current estimate, but as the zoo is still mostly underwater there is no way to fully calculate the damage at this point.

Below are a few pics from our trip to the zoo - one that has been recognized as one of the best in the world - and our family's favorite. These are obviously from far sunnier times than today.

This is the walk-through lemur exhibit - up on the horizontal branch in the middle you can see one running through the crowd. 

This is what it looks like today. All of the areas shown above are now underwater. These photos were taken by the Prague Zoo.

The zoo has been inundated with people from all over the city, of all nationalities, offering manual labor and cleaning supplies but what they really need is money. The zoo has had to reopen their upper levels as they are dependent upon the income generated from visitors and they cannot afford to lose any income at this time. If you can, please donate to the zoo. One way to do so is through their Zoo Adoption Program. They also have a Flood Recovery Donation Account that has been established. You can click on either link for more details.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tuesday flood update

I'm back at school today - not the ideal setting, in my opinion, but that's where I am. The sun was out for a moment but now the clouds are back and it's going gray again. It poured last night... I also watched the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones last night so (if you're a fan) you can understand that last night was a bit much.

Here are the photos from today: IDNES PHOTO GALLERY

Idnes is a Czech news outlet so the text you will see at the bottom of the photos is in Czech. If you're not using Google Chrome, which should allow you to automatically perform the translations,  then you can copy and past the text in to a translator if you want to know what you're looking at. The pictures aren't just from Prague, although it seems the majority of them are, but from all over CZ.

In other news - more people have died. The sewage system has become overwhelmed in Prague and sewage is now being pumped directly in to the Vlatva. The city recommends that if you touch the flood water that you go home and disinfect yourself. Outside of Prague the water systems have been compromised and tap water is no longer safe. Inside of Prague the water pressure is not consistent and some districts are sporadically without any water at all. A lot of the metro stations are closed  - before this meant that the metro just didn't' stop there but it ran through the station but now they've just shuttered parts of the system entirely.

And finally - something you'll not often see...

(photographer unknown)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Monday afternoon flood photos

So, to start off here are a few random pics I took while on a walk a few months back. They're not the ones I wanted but I can't find those, so these are the one's you're going to get. They're just to give you an idea as to the dimensions of the river bank and surrounding areas.

Pretty and cheery right? (Yes, that's a bride.)

So, here's today, the same general area. I can't get one that shows where the boat was as it's gone - that region is mostly underwater. The closest I can get is what was behind the boat - a little island with a playground. Click on it and you'll see you're looking at the top of a slide and the top of a swingset.

In the photo with the bride this little restaurant with the red roof is in the distant background. I was standing under the arches in the background when I took the pic of the newly married couple. 

You can see some stairs that lead down - but that's just the first of three sections you take to get to the lower level. 

The streetlamps aren't like sidewalk street lamps, these serve large boats that dock here so they're quite tall.

This is the top of a billboard.

Here you can see how they're keeping Kampa Island and parts of Mala Strana safe. You can't even see where the stairs down to the lower restaurant level start as they're completely underwater.

 The city is pretty dry. There have been deaths but some of those are due to stupidity rather than an general threat (rafting, surfing, etc). Areas have lost power and water but it's being restored. Around the country about 7,000 have been evacuated. Other cities, towns, really, have been much harder hit than Prague has. The metro has been greatly impacted but there are supplemental buses and trams running in order to ensure the backup doesn't get too crazy. It's stopped raining for a bit - it had while I was taking the photos too - but we're expecting more... and they have to release water from a dam in order to ensure the dam doesn't break, so they expect the river to increase even more - but it's already receded a bit. Fortunately they don't expect it to get to the level of the last flood - but the city is prepared for that level of flooding, so even if it increases dramatically things should hold.

Hope you're warm and dry and having better weather than this.

Monday morning flood thoughts

The National Library worked through the night to move books out of the low-lying storage areas. This morning I found a map of the closed streets and realized our school's library borders one of the streets closed for flooding... the school's website has noted the library is closed until further notice, but it says that about the school in general so I didn't think too much of it until this a.m. Now the library is on the first floor (European style first floor, second if you're in the US) and it's hopefully not too likely the water will reach that high, but as I understand it, if you're evacuated you're not allowed right back in to the building once the water recedes. The owners have to clean and sterilize it and get approval from one of the few engineers qualified in the post-flood cleanup process to certify not only that it's clean but that structurally, addressing the building, water and electricity conduits, that it's sound and safe for rehabitation - and then you have to take that paper to the municipality for them to process it and release the lock-out.

This whole process can take a number of days... and now I'm worried that maybe while the water won't get to the books that possibly secondary moisture damage could. I hope that's not the case. I think we have the biggest English language library in the country and it'd truly be a tragedy if it were damaged.

I also realized - my leather winter boots are under my desk inside a building that is currently inaccessible. And my umbrella is right behind my desk, about two feet away from my boots. That was stupid. I went to the Fringe Fest after school on Friday and left my umbrella and boots in the building to collect today as I thought I'd chill at home for the weekend and skip the rainy weather... that was mostly true, but now the weekend is over and the building is still locked up. I think I'm going to need to find my warm rubber boots to head out in a bit and a stupid very thin rain jacket - like a single layer of plastic - that actually does keep me dry but does nothing for the cold.

So here's a repeat photo for you - one that was taken yesterday afternoon (it was already seriously flooded) for contrasting purposes.

And now here's the same location, but taken just before 8:30 this morning.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Flooding June 2013

The country has been hit by massive flooding. (Don't worry, family, I live on a hill outside of the flood-zone and am absolutely fine!) The government has declared a state of emergency and transport across the country has been impacted.

Friends are being evacuated, the zoo has been evacuated, the National Library is relocating all of their books, hospitals and rest homes evacuated, schools and buildings have been closed.

There is a lot of stuff going on and very little one can do. There is a hotline to call to help, but they've accepted 200 volunteers and aren't accepting anymore - and even those 200 aren't being fully utilized.

The first image below was taken (none of them are my own - photographers unknown unless identified) after the flooding had already started, the second today after a bit more time - the peak still hasn't hit.

This is one of my favorite areas of Prague, but it's completely underwater right now... in the lower right hand-side you can see the windows of the restaurant you walk past in order to get to the open air bar and farmers markets areas.

Here's an image where you can see a river-side restaurant underwater. (Foto: Lukáš Horáček)

And here is a beautiful building, the Municipal Building, before the storm.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Here comes the sun, doo doo doo doo

Nope... not yet. It was peaking out there for a second, not even a second, half a second but now the cold grey has settled in again.

ThCzech Hydro-Meteorological Office had a bit of news release today - not shocking to those of us who've been living it, but.... the sun has been hiding.

Seriously. There's been only 43% of normal sunlight hours. In the month of January, the whole month mind you, there were only 20 hours of sunlight. Last week there were two hours of visible sunlight.

Bleak.Grey. Dreary.

Hope it ends soon. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sick, not stuck

Each winter I get really sick. I caught a cough in November, it started to improve in December while I was away, and now it's come at me with a vengeance. I am wheezing when I'm not even breathing. It sounds like my lungs are snoring in between my breaths. I'm conscious of each breath I take. I wake up violently, gasping, wheezing and feeling like I'm choking, within minutes of falling asleep, each time I fall asleep. It has made me hesitant to take the medication that will make me drowsy. Today I had another round of lung x-rays. Have never had to do this in the US but have had to quite a few times here.

And while I'm still waiting for my results I have made some decisions...

Unless there is a complete and final resolution for my breathing problems this will be my last winter in this country. I cannot live some place if I can't breathe there. I don't know where I will go yet, most likely not back to my place of origin (doesn't meet the below criteria), so I am about to start researching other countries: places with a low cost of living, moderate climate, comprehensive and affordable medical care, and some sort of expat community/English language opportunity. If you have any suggestions please send them my way.