19 July, 2006

Off-line for a couple weeks

I will be off-line so to speak for the next couple weeks. We leave at 8 tomorrow morning to go to "Native Spirit Camp". I don´t know much about it other than we will be team building and doing exercised much like with the firefighters, but not with building and cars, we will be completly in nature, sleeping in tents and stuff. It is nice here during the day, but will get really cold in the night, since we will be in the Alps Mountains. We are not allowed to bring anything electronic with us (phones, cameras, etc.) so I will not be able to take any photos. I am sure I will have good stories though.

I will post in a couple weeks, WISH ME LUCK!!!

Crazy Day ONE!!

Monday morning the students went to the Tirol Firefighters School in Austria. We were to work with the firefighters. Their job was to put us in "stressful" or "challenging" situations, which they did quite well.

Day one: we sat through a little talk about the day, where they actually told us alot about nothing they were going to do. Austrian Firefighters can be very vague when they want to be... The one thing we did learn was that we can choose not to participate in any activity without giving any reason. Of course there was no chance for me to opt out of anything; I am way too competitive for that! We did learn that if we were hurt or freaked out or something we were to yell "ASTARTE" and the exercise would immediately come to a halt. I don’t know what ASTARTE means, but probably something like "I am a wimp".

First off we were divided up into groups and separated. The first exercise was a piece of cake for me, as we just had to put a metal ladder together stand it up against a building and crawl up a couple floors and then crawl back down a rope ladder. (We were harnessed with ropes, so it was totally safe).

Second our group was led into a room and they took us one by one (me first!) into another room. All the nice firefighter told me was that the room would be dark, full of smoke and I have to find my way out. No problem, I thought although my heart was racing a bit... I had to crawl up on a platform and then enter the next room thought a small door. I took my last look at the firefighter who had a crooked grin on his face and enter the darkness. Upon entering the room, I had to crawl into a little tunnel and then entered a cage like place. I could not stand up and because of my surgical enhanced knees, I could not crawl, so I thought of Mr. Farley my gradeschool gym teacher and started doing the crab walk feet first. This turned out to be the best thing for me, since the cage got larger and smaller and turned left and right, up and down. I was in a wicked McDonalds playland complete with smoke, darkness and loud crashing noises. I found a trap door and then had to go down and then up another tunnel and then down through a hole in the floor. I actually was not panicking at all. My only thought was to keep moving and get the hell out of there. I finally made it to a door and opened it and found another student there. There was a little light but we had to drag this very large very heavy stuffed dummy through a long small tunnel and then up a manhole ladder. This was sooo tough and a little humbling since I could not lift the dummy by myself and had to rely on the other guy to help me pull and push him up the ladder and to the light and safety. I made it in record time and the coordinator said I was the first (the other 2 groups had already done it) to reach the door so quickly. I did not tell anyone my secret about the "crab walk" because I guess that was the trick, since some people had fallen down the hole in the floor (and my wonderful friend and awesome traveling companion, Laurie, had to be taken to the hospital via an ambulance after falling down the hole, luckily she came away with only bruises, albeit super huge bruises.) and the others crawled and head first was not the best way to go into the darkness. All in all, most of the female students were exceptional; one point for "girl power"...but of course who is counting points anyway, it is not really a competition, right....

Third exercise is where I really rocked…it’s MY blog, so I can make it all about me! We were hoisted one by one down a different manhole into a very small area, about the size of a closet. Our instructions were to save another dummy (we named him Mikey) and get every one back out. There was standing ankle deep water and a ladder (the fold up triangle shaped one) There were 7 of us and as soon as the last one was hoisted down, the firefighters took away the ropes and turned on a massive hose and water started pouring down into the hole. Everyone freaked out for a second (me included) and then I started moving. I knew that I work really good under pressure and luckily everyone was somewhat listening. I grabbed the ladder and positioned it right under the hole and started to climb up. I was getting drenched from the water so I had to crawl back down for a second. I saw Biviana (a young small girl from Columbia) struggling with Mikey by herself. I crawled back into the hole and yelled for someone to help her and that I was going up. Everything was happening so fast and at that moment, it wasn’t an exercise for me, I was in full rescue mission! I then climbed back up and tried to get out of the hole but the ladder was a little short (or maybe I was) but I could not jump up and hoist myself out with my arms because of the water pressure, I tried it and then was kind of stuck with both knees on one side of the hole and my upperbody on the other. I was going to fall back into the hole or on the ladder when a firefighter pulled me out. He then backed back out of the way and then I saw Mikey´s head appearing (the others were pushing him up). I grabbed him and I don’t know how I did it, but I pulled him out of the hole. Another student’s head appeared and I helped him crawl out. We then helped the other 5 out. By that time we were all drenched and the last ones up said the water was really rising. After each exercise we discuss things as a group and while I was getting Mikey out, the only 2 guys in our group were in the corner farthest away from the water and Biviana had to pull one of them towards the ladder to help her get Mikey out of the hole. She said everyone was yelling down there but she managed to get them to the ladder. We said we were a great team, since we did such a good job working together! 2 points for "girl power", ummm okay, I am counting a little...

Crazy Day TWO!!

I knew we were in for something harder today!

First off, we just belayed down a building (with ropes) so it was not a really big deal for me. I mention "for me" because in each of the exercises it becomes a real challenge for some of the students, this one is especially hard for those afraid of heights.

Second, a couple of us were put in a car and we raced off with the firefighter driver racing another car (with no students in it, only a driver) We were screeching around corners and we were all yelling "go faster" "beat him" and laughing. Then I saw a some wrecked cars and a wrecked bus ahead of us (all these exercises are done on the school grounds not on a main street or anything). I knew we were going to crash into the cars and I was in the front seat, I braced myself and we crashed (we were not really going that fast). The driver then slumped over in his seat (pretending to be hurt) and I then went in to my "rescue mode". I could not get my door open because we were up against the bus. I then crawled through the window and jumped around the cars to the drivers side. His door was able to open but I couldn´t get him out (he was a big guy) . Biviana was trying to get out of the backseat but they had put her one one side, Katerina on another and between them was Edmond (a very large built guy, who´s feet they had bound). Biviana just crawled over Edmond, over the driver and out. She helped me pull him to safety, while Katrina was still trying to get out the back seat. Once the driver was out they were able to climb free of the car and Edmond had broke through the ties that had bound his feet in the excitement. The firefighters were cracking up because they couldn´t believe he was able to get free. Anyway, it was a great experience and more points for me and Biviana!

3rd Exercise! THis one was a little tougher for me...They blindfolded us (in groups of 7) and then put a hood over our heads. We then were placed in a jeep and they started driving off. I started to get really aprenhensive because I was really imagining that I was a hostage or kidnapped victim. My mind was racing and I started to breath very fast and get teary eyed. I calmed myself down and even though I knew it wasn´t real, I couldn´t stop thinking about how this situation really happens to people! We finally stopped and they got me out and then bound my hands with this plastic dohickey (that you tie computer wired together with). It was tight and really hurt. they then had me (I am getting upset typing this!) follow them for about 30 feet and then the guy said "we are going down about 10 meters". I then thougth that I was going to be put into a hole. I then was told to stand still and the guy walked away. I just stood there (we were told before the exercise that we couldn´t try to free ourselves, or walk away) and tried to figure out what they were going to do. The stupid Bob Marley song "Every little things gonna be alright" and I almost laughed. I couldn´t get it out of my head, so I started swaying back and forth to the imaginary music. A guy then came to me and told me to sit down. I didn´t like that at all since there were ants and bugs crawling about (I knew we were in the forest). I sat there for about 30 minutes and then heard dogs howling. I got really excited but still didn´t know what was happening. This part was extremely hard for those who were scared of dogs!

Finally a dog came bounding up and sat next to me and barked so loud in my ear. He/She then slobbered all over my bare arm. I was really smiling then thinking of Mattie! A guy then took off my blindfold and I saw the most gorgeous dog wearing a Red Cross Jacket and a man wearing the same (just a little larger size :-) I wanted to hug the dog so bad, but realized he was working...I followed the man in silence and we found another student Stephie. The man was speaking German to the dog and Stephie told me he was saying "brave dog" to it. The dog then took off and then the man, Stephie and I looked at each other and we figured we better follow him since we had no idea where we were.

(oh at this point I guess I should mention that I went to the Emergency room on Sunday night because I had, (I found out), overstretched the tendon in my right foot by my ankle. I was okay, but It was hurting a little from all the exercise.) We followed this man up and down this seemingly endless forest. I kept thinking that I was going to die of dehydration or pain in my calves from running uphill! Finally we stopped the man gave the dog some water. I wanted to drink out of his water dish! We then ran up another hill and finally found the rest of the group.

The dogs were Red Cross Rescue dogs in training and so it was beneficial for us and them to work together. I think we get to work with the Red Cross again when we work with the Austrain Army at the end of next week.

That exercise was mentally and physically exausting BUT I am even more sure that I am doing the right thing and moving in the right direction with my education and hopefully with me life! :-)

13 July, 2006

View of the castle in Salzburg

View from some castle in Salzburg

Salzburg, Austria

Toto, were are definitely not in Kansas anymore!!!

This was taken in a village in France called Domme which ended at the top of this cliff where the view was breathtaking.

Maison Olea Bed and Breakfast

Here is where we had breakfast everymorning for 4 days. It was a wonderful way to start the day although I was pretty sick of French cheese by the time we left. The view was so beautiful as you can see in the distance.

Left to right, Mimi, Laurie, Katherine and Hilary.

Chateau Des Milandes

We toured this Chateau one day and it was incredible. I want to live here and all the gargoyles can stay, but the ivy would have to go....I saw little crawly things in it, eek!


Me at Chateau Des Milandes (a.k.a. Josephine Baker´s place...well, it used to be at one time). It is this gorgeous chateau or castle surrounded by French Countryside.

04 July, 2006

It is starting again...

My second term in the peace studies program has now officially started in Austria. The structure here is very different (as is this crazy German keyboard; it is an effort to type correctly). We have classes in the mornings from 9-12 lunch at 12:30 and then classes again from 2-5. This is in stark contrast to the easy going Spanish program...there will be no leisurely afternoon siestas for me for awhile! We have 2 weeks of this schedule and then go "into the woods" so to speak. I will post more about that part of the program later in the week, as I have not had time to fully understand what all this entails, but I do know that I am very excited about it!!!

It is almost lunch time so I will add photos of my trip through France (on the way to Austria) and about the incredible gorgeous countryside later. If you are late for meals you get reprimanded in German ( and then again by a translator so I must rush to the cafeteria, now)