28 August, 2006

The fat lady has sung...

I can't believe another term is over...I really enjoyed the Austria Program, so much so, I have decided to come back here for my third and final term next summer. Currently it is only offered in the summer.

What to do until then...well, after working on my CV, I am definitely lacking humanatiarian aid experience. I am looking for work in this field, but with absense of experience I am having trouble finding an organization to hire me. I have contacted several NGO's inquiring about potential volunteer positions, the big problem is the cost of getting to these countires (
Thailand or Haiti to give a couple examples). I am in the early stages of figuring this out, so there is plenty of time to get it together.

Since the term is over and well, since I have actually nothing to do, except to write my term paper, I have traveled to Vienna with my new friend Andi, who lives in this city with her boyfriend Yorg (not spelled right because I don't know how to convert my keyboard to type German letters). I will be here for 2 weeks and then meet my
US friend Sandy and her mom in Greece. I can not wait to see Sandy! and I cannot believe that we have been friends since grade school!! What great memories flowing through my mind right now!

Greece I will return to my flat in Spain until I figure out where I will be going. Any and all suggestions will be considered (except the suggestion to return to Kansas, hee hee)!

Group shots.

In the Classroom (for the Red Cross seminar).
Hanging out listening to our Guru, Peter at Native Spirit Camp.
In the main teepee at Native Spirit camp, it's similar to what we had to sleep in.
Classroom shot after our Holotropic Breathing, Transpersonal Therapy class. Curious??...Google it!

Native Spirit Camp Photo's

Making Fire! It was so nice to have Laurie on my team! Peter kept saying, the stick is the male and the base is the female and you are making a baby (fire). It was such tiring work, that I turned to Laurie and said "I thought making a baby was much easier" and "dammit, no wonder why I never made one before, it is exausting". It's hard to explain, but we had to "saw" sticks together for a long time until we got "ash", then had to immediately transfer the ash to an easily burnable substance...

In this case hay or straw. Le is not licking the hay, she is (in her own special way) blowing on it to start the flame...not sure what my face is all about?? we were so tired and EXCITED about finally making the damn thing burn, that the three of us were yelling and carrying on. Once we actually saw the hay ignite I screamed, OH MY GOD, Laurie, take a photo so I can send to my parents. I have finally made a baby! They will be soooo proud!!

Watching my baby burn! After we got the flame started in the hay, we stuck it under a teepee of sticks we had previously made.

Hanging out eating watermelon.

More Native Spirit Camp Photo's

Building a shelter (in case we are ever lost in a place in the winter). It had to be 3 layers thick and the layers consisted of: first building a "tent" with larger logs, then sticks, then twigs and then hay or grass, then repeating these steps 2 more times. Not sure why the look on my face, but probably like, "put the damn camera down and help".
The finished shelter!Boy aren't we sooo proud! ha ha, it did take us a couple hours to finish it.

27 August, 2006

Firefighters Academy

When we were blindfolded, driven to an unknown location and then left in separate spots for about an hour alone.

During the Firefighters Academy when we were lowered into a "hole" and then had to "rescue" Mikey the dummy as well as ourselves, while the hole filled up with water from above.

I was the first one out!

Getting Mikey to Safety!
Pulling out the driver after we crashed. I was in the passenger side and had to crawl out through the window and over the car.

more Firefighter Academy photo's

Firefighters Academy group photo with the Red Cross rescue dogs and trainers.

Belaying down a building.

Ropes Course

A couple of shots from a ropes course we took. The last photo is of me, Mk and Nobs. We went flying down this zip line and stopped short of the platform and couldn't get unhooked. Everytime we would almost get ourselves balanced on the platform, one of us would loose balance and we would fall off and just hang there. We were so exausted by the time we finally all balanced that we could barely unhook ourselves from the line. Obviously a team building exercise!

Austrian Army Adventures

Hiking one night up this huge mountain. This was after a LONG day of UN peacekeeping. The blue jackets we are wearing symbolize that we are UNHCR members.

Evacuating the bunkers (because we were getting bombed and shot at)

I LOVE this shot! it is of me and Biviana, a student from Colombia. We got along great and had soooo much fun together. I don't remember what we were laughing at, but since it was late at night and we were at such a high altitude, we were probably just giddy from sheer exhaustion and lack of oxygen...I think she was saying "does this Army Jacket and UN vest make me look fat"?

15 August, 2006

FUN TIMES with Connor and Maggie :-)


I had the absolute pleasure of spending time with the Howell Family in Munich (and surrounding areas). Maria, Jeff, Maggie and Conner visited Germany and I was able to take the train from Innsbruck to Munich for a few days. We had so much fun together and thankfully, Jeff had mastered the train/subway system, so I could sit back and just enjoy the scenery. Of course due to my complete faith in his direction, therefore not really paying attention to my surroundings, I promptly got on the wrong subway after saying my goodbye's at the airport. Upon realizing that the S1 is definitely not the S8, I saw that the S1 would indeed take me to the same station in the end....About 20 minutes out of my way. Not really a big problem since I didn't have any plans for the day, but it kept me stressed a little since I didn't know if my ticket was specifically for the S8. Luckily no one came to check tickets (typical) and I was on my way back to Innsbruck later that morning.

Thank you Howells for letting me crash in your comfortable (albeit tiny) hotel room. I will always remember the "one liners", late nights, sleep deprivation, peek-a-boo bathroom, go fish, Thai food, surprise snuggling, etc.

I already miss the "invasion into my private space", ha ha. Glad you all made it back to Kansas safely.

08 August, 2006

Austrian Army & Red Cross

26-07-2006 – Austrian Army & Red Cross

Breakfast at 7 and then meeting in the seminar room at 8:30 sharp (Austrian Time).

Exercise 1 (Mine Awareness): Classroom - watched videos of different mines and their effects on the human body (complete with photo’s of people who had missing body parts, or in some cases only body parts were remaining depending on the type of mine they unfortunately crossed paths with) as well as tanks and other objects, then hands on awareness by looking at different mines, spotting them in nature and how to get out of a mine field if needed. Ever wonder what happens to all the mines placed during wars?? Hmmm…obviously they are not regularly picked up, therefore; they are just left there waiting for a child or other innocent civilian to happen along and BAM, there goes arm, leg, head or tiny body...

Exercise 2 (First Aid): Classroom instruction; CPR/Shock/first aid-everyday medical issues. Simulation of an emergency situation - Refugee camp conflict. E and I were first aid workers and had to deal with a conflict situation; fighting, knife wound, shock, dealing with nosy people, other languages, etc. We were a good team, ha ha actually almost TOO GOOD. E is a large strong guy so when we came into the room and happened “upon the conflict” we were able to separate the 2 "refugees" fighting, therefore almost putting a stop to the exercise prematurely. Finally one of the guys got away from
E and "stabbed" the other so we could put our first aid knowledge to work.

Exercise 3 (Water production): Learned how the water is purified and distributed in disaster situations. In a natural disaster (tsunami) all the water is contaminated and undrinkable / unusable. There are massive disaster teams who quickly arrive in the area from all over the world and chemically treat (purify) the available water and transport it to the much needed civilians. Classroom work consisted of information on chemical warfare agents and their uses by countries, as well as individuals. More photo's of what happens to people who are exposed to these weapons. I was quite disgusted at the thought of the use of these weapons in the past and in future conflicts.

While listening to the Military and Red Cross Personnel, my mind was swarming with thoughts…how might I use this information in the future?? Will I ever need to?? I was trying to absorb all the information all the while realizing that someday (hopefully soon) I could put this knowledge to work.

UNHCR "simulated" mission

27-07-2006 – Austrian Army

We were divided up into groups of 5, debriefed on a fictitious situation in a fictitious country where there is a war between the Oberlanders and the Sudlanders. We were UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee's) peace keepers and our mission was to get to the UN Headquarters which was in the “no fire” zone between the 2 places.

After every exercise our assigned Army Major would have us get together and we would go over the pros and cons of our actions.

Exercise 1 (Oberlander Children): We started out in 2 army jeeps (5 students per jeep). We were stopped by young children sitting in the road. They were begging for water and they approached the vehicle, started putting their little arms in the windows and began to climb all over the jeeps. When I saw three of them on the hood of the jeep, my first thought was to drive forward a little then slam on the breaks; they would fall off, we could back up and drive around them…I was told later that was not a very humanitarian thing to do! Well we couldn’t get them off and if you have ever tried to persuade a stubborn child to do something they don’t want to you can understand the dilemma we were in. Our “commander” N got out of the car and tried to gently lift one of the kids off of the roof. At that point the parents came out of the trees with weapons and demanded to know what we were doing to their children. Major R took N and the commander of the 2nd jeep and they “negotiated” with the parents and we were soon on our way. We stopped shortly down the road to go over the map and the 2 "commanders" got into an argument about where we should go. I couldn’t believe these 2 “grown-up’s” were shouting at each other. Of course I got involved and tried to break up the yelling, when they wouldn't stop shouting at each other, the Major stepped in and took them aside. Although simulated, the exercises felt real since we were in full army gear, boots and we were hot and tired. That was the first introduction of stress that overwhelmed us.

Exercise 2 (Non violent illegal road block): I was then given the “commander” position of jeep 1 and N2 for Jeep 2. On our way to the UN camp, we were supposed to “check out” a “suspicious area” and report back to “Charlie” on the radio on any findings. My car was first and we came upon “Oberlander Militia” (about 20 guys in military uniforms who were shouting, blocking the road and fully clad with weapons.) We radio’s to the other jeep to hang back and not follow us down the road. The militia stopped us and demanded to know what our purpose was on that road. They asked the driver (a local guy we contracted to drive us) as to who was in charge and the driver pointed to me. This guy came to my window and asked what purpose we had being there. He said he spoke English, but it was hard getting my point across. He then asked where we were going and what we were doing in this area”. Since I couldn’t explain it to him with words, I had to get out and show him the map. I was nervous as hell getting out of the safety of the vehicle; especially by myself. I explained by talking slowly and pointing to the UN Headquarters on the map. He then said that we had made a wrong turn and he would let us go on our way if we went back to the main road. My feelings were mixed as on one hand I knew this was “not a real situation” but on the other hand it seemed so realistic; I was in the middle of a big mess and was responsible for many other lives.

Exercise 3 (mine field): Using the maps, we soon found the 2nd place we were told to check out. We entered an area and right away saw mine markers. We had been told that there may be live mines in the area, but there was not any definite proof of this. We noticed the mine markers and continued on in the jeep. I was still in charge…maybe because I didn’t get anyone killed in the previous exercise, ha ha and told everyone to look out the windows and tell me if they see anything. We saw many signs of mines (rocks, tape, can on a stick, etc.) and then I saw a “live mine” at which point we should have radio’s to Charlie and left the area, but I was so excited that I spotted one that I forgot to tell the driver to stop. M saw one and said loudly that we should stop. The driver did so and we sat there for awhile to discuss the situation. With "live mines" in the area, we knew it was not safe to go any further, but we couldn't really turn around safely either. While we were stopped our jeep was hit by a detonated bomb. Car 2 meanwhile had been instructed via radio from our car to stay back and not to enter the area. The Major ran over to the car and handed us photos of what we “looked like” after the bomb. I had lost my left eye, had blood allover and was in shock. Mk had his legs blown off at the knee, M had her pinky finger almost ripped off and the driver had a small head cut. (
N and Ms were unharmed). I started yelling and grabbed my face (I’m a good actress) Mk was yelling about his legs…or lack thereof. The jeep was kind of in chaos as N tried to radio the information to “Charlie” and the other jeep. Those in back (I was in the front with the driver) opened the first aid kit and realized that there was nothing inside it. (Oops…a supply check would have been nice before we left!) We had to improvise with other things (scarves for my head, jackets tied to Mk’s legs, my bandana for M’s finger and a small piece of cloth for the drivers head. We heard via radio that help would be on the way but that it would take an hour or more because it would take that long to “clear the area” for mines and for help to reach us. It was hot in the car and I heard loud voices from the back of the vehicle as stress started replacing the adrenaline rush previously felt. As “commander” I started giving instructions from the front seat although in reality I would not have been able to do so. The 2nd car could not help us since there were mines and other explosives everywhere. We had to wait it out (about 20 minutes) for the “rescue team” to save us, although in a reality situation it would have taken up to 2+ hours. After the exercise the major inspected our vehicle and the evaluation was not good. Mk surely would have bled to death and since no one had addressed my shock, I was probably a goner as well. Had I not been the one who had an eye blown off, I am confident that all would have survived under my care…but of course being a bit egocentric; those thoughts come natural to me...in the end, I can admit that I was at fault for not having the driver stop when the first live mine was spotted….It won’t happen again!

UNHCR "simulation" cont...

27-07-2006 - Austrian Army


Exercise 4 (Crossfire): M (my vehicle) and S (vehicle 2) were commanders at this time. The UN Headquarters were under fire from both groups, it was not safe for us to go there and we would have to take an alternative route. Jeep 2 was in the lead this time and we came upon the Oberlanders and the Sudlanders shooting at each other on opposite hills above the road we were on. Since we knew that we may be entering a hostile area, we had already put on our protective vests and helmets (adding another 10 pounds to our already weighted body. We immediately got down in the car (guys first of course!!! therefore leaving room on the floor for only my head and shoulders; the major informed me later that my ass could have gotten blown off). After awhile the shooting was only coming from the right, so it was safe to exit the vehicles and lie down on the left sides. Jeep 2 evacuated and S began waving the only weapons UN workers are allowed to have…a blue vest signifying our status. She started yelling that we were UNHCR to let the shooters know we were innocent. One of our comrades (from the other car) was lying on the ground when my group evacuated our vehicle. No one was helping him and I yelled at N to tell me what was wrong with him. She said he was dead and I said “how do you know” and she said he was shot in their car and had a head wound. I was yelling to see if anyone had checked him to see if he was really dead or just unconscious. No one responded (it was a bit chaotic) so I checked him (basically by asking him if he was dead to which he replied “no, the major said I was just unconscious”). I was pissed that no one had checked him, but then “the shooting” started again and we had to get the hell out of there. I grabbed 2 guys (before they could run off and leave me, a tendency they have) and had them help me carry the "unconscious" victim to safety. With the altitude and all the gear we were wearing it felt like he weighed 300 pounds. We finally got to safety and everyone just collapsed. The major met us and of course told us a list of things we “should have done”. Mistakes are part of any learning process. We could have sat in a classroom for 3 months “learning” what we should and should not do in certain situations, but theory and reality are much different concepts. Learning hands on is much more effective.


After that experience we went to our sleeping quarters for the night; a far-cry-from-comfort bunker in the side of a hill consisting of one room and two “shelves” for beds along the back. (one on top of the other, like long bunkbeds). The bunker was cement, cold and dark, had no electricity and a bathroom consisting of a toilet on a “throne”. After doing your, ahem...”business” on the throne, you dump a large scoop of this dirt powder stuff into the hole, which is to kill the smell, I guess. We unloaded our huge backpacks and I surveyed my surroundings. With 10 of us in the bunker the sleeping arrangement was slowly taking shape in my head. I got organized on the bottom “bunk” between M and S (known non-snorers). We then headed up a hill to eat our seemingly regurgitated canned dinner (including bread in a can that lasts 10 years and the expiration date was 12-2006...) After dinner we went back to the bunker and I got more organized…as best I could. Then it was back up the hill to be informed about the next exercises…by now it is around 8:30 and all I can think about is bed, but the humanitarians never sleep so we were drilled on what to do in case of fire and/or an evacuation. It was then back to our bunker (at this point the walking up and down that hill was really wearing me out from the altitude and full day’s work).


About ½ hour later, we were summoned outside for the fire drill. We grabbed flashlights, radios and the fire extinguisher and attempted to run back up the same frickin’ hill we just came from. The guys ran ahead (as usual) leaving the super women females to grab the necessities and very heavy fire extinguisher. We then went back down the hill after getting the okay by the major. After the fire drill, we had to go through the evacuation drill; grab our heavy backpacks this time and back up the dreaded hateful hill! On the way down, I really thought my stomach was trying to rid itself of the ancient bread that was congeling in its debths. I managed to keep it down and retreated to the bunker and then we were summoned to go as a whole group to look through night vision equipment. Of course they couldn't have just done this while we were already 1/2 way there.


We climbed this really really high hill in the dark along a really small rocky unstable path. I enjoyed the crisp night air and the hike, but I was so very tired from everything that I just wanted to sit down when I reached the top. We looked through goggles, binoculars, but I passed on examining the night vision on some rocket launcher weapon (I am a peace student by the way). We finally headed back down the hill and I was the first in line to go down behind 2 military guys, who I enjoyed joking with as the gap between we three and the rest of the group deepened. I was in desperate need to get away from the peace group even for a little while. I had not been getting my precious much needed “alone time”. While climbing down the mountain (at this point it was no longer a hill) I looked back at the group making their way single file down the mountain. The single file slow movements of the flashlights in the darkness looked like a bunch of zombies in a B movie or something…or maybe my mind was as tired as my body at this point. We then settled in for the night (It was past midnight), ready for our evacuation awakening.

pull the pin, pound the button...pull...pound...pull...pound...

28-07-2006 – Austrian Army


Exercise 1 - The evacuation happened about 7AM & I am ever grateful for the ability to sleep at least 6 hours! I think the only reason that we were not awakened in the middle of the night is because it was raining. Could there be a glimmer of warmth in those military hearts?? Once we heard the first boom (of a bomb) it was time to get motivated for the evacuation. (my first thought was, dammit...can't they bomb us later...) I did have all my gear ready (did anyone say OCD??) and because it was really cold, I was wearing all my clothes including my army jacket and blue vest. I was using the army pants as a pillow, so I quickly put them on, added the shrapnel vest and helmet and then my backpack and one radio. While we were standing there ready for the final notice to vacate the bunker I smelled fire. I told “the current commander” that we will probably have to put out a fire on the way out. She specified one of the guys (I won’t name names) to be the first one out and to grab the extinguisher along the way so he could put out the fire, she explained this to him and even asked for acknowledgement of the situation which he then nodded his head (cultural differences aside, nodding up and down in his country means "yes" ). We got the notice and she told him to go first. He promptly ran out of the bunker straight past the extinguisher. I was immediately pissed off and grabbed it on my way out(because of course, no one else took responsibility). I ran out and in my stress, I forgot to pound the top button after pulling out the pin on the extinguisher. One of the military guys did it for me and I was fuming at that point, partly at myself and partly at the incapability of some of the guys in this program! I got over it slowly as I made my way DOWN the stupid hill this time. We jogged for a short time, which seemed like miles carrying the weight of the clothing, backpack and the radio.


Once down the hill we were put in army vehicles and driven back up the hill to our bunkers. We then loaded up the rest of our stuff and large backpacks into vehicles and were driven back down the hill to the army headquarters for breakfast and showers. After both, we went into a classroom for the presentation/class on Austrian Forces Disaster Relief Unit and how deployment takes only a couple days from the time of the disaster to the Unit arriving at their destination. Greatly informative! We then had lunch and then attended a class on Hostage Situation and Interrogation. An interrogation was simulated using a couple students. Even though it was in a classroom with the group giggling at times, my emotions were reeling and at times I felt like it was happening to me.


After leaving the military base I felt sad that it was over…I had learned so much in just 2 days, I couldn’t help thinking of what I could do in a week…a month…or more. Not that I want to go out and join the army or anything of course (I would make a good soldier if there wasn't so many rules...) I definitely want more hands-on training in this area.