Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Neighbors and obligations

I find that most people, regardless of the country they are from, believe a "good neighbor" is someone that is silent, never or rarely speaks to them, never asks them for anything, and never bothers them. I've been to more than 30 countries, and I find that most people don't know the names of anyone living in their apartment building or their block, and don't want to, and when they talk about their neighbors, it's to complain about them. And that's true of many communities in the Southern USA as well, the place where everyone is supposed to be "so friendly."

I guess I'm in the minority in that, to me, a neighborhood is a community, and a neighbor is someone I live with. Yes, I want my neighbors to not bother me - no loud music at midnight, no screaming kids on the trampoline in the evenings when I'm trying to watch a movie or go to bed early, no trash in the yard that attracts vermin, no criminals in the family waiting for an opportunity to steal something and all that. But I also really like neighbors that speak to me, that say "Hi" and "Good morning" and "How as Ukraine?" I like neighbors that mow my lawn ("Well, I was done with mine, and just thought I'd do yours too") or bring me food ("We made three pizzas - you want one?") or wave to me when we're all outside or express concern when they haven't seen me in a while.

I try to be what I think is a "good neighbor." I will bring a neighbor food. I toss people's newspapers closer to their doors. I'll accept a package from Fed Ex or UPS or whatever on your behalf and make sure you get it when you're home. I'll put your loose dog in my backyard and call you at work to let you know. I may not ever invite you to my house for dinner or give you any indication of my politics and I might stick to the weather and traffic in our conversations - I don't want to necessarily be friends with all of my neighbors. But we're neighbors, and we live together. That means I have to count on you if I collapse in my front yard and can't reach a phone, or a moving truck pulls up to my house while I'm out of town, or flames start shooting out of a window when I'm not home.

Two doors down from me lived a woman that most people here in our neighborhood didn't like, and some even feared. She could be loud when she talked, and she had a dog that did not like other dogs. She was schizophrenic and on a variety of medications. She hobbled when she walked, had a massive belly, never wore a bra, and wore... comfortable clothes. She believed in conspiracy theories and thought Jesse Ventura was terrific. She's been arrested at least a few times, I think mostly for fighting with people in public. The police knew her well. The outside of the house where she lived looks awful - dirty, with abandoned things all around - but that wasn't her fault, as she wasn't the owner. She lived upstairs, in one of the four apartments in the building. The apartment next to her is occupied by a scary looking man who she said is a convicted sexual predator, and the two apartments on the first floor are packed with her landlord's junk.

She loved animals. She had a retired therapy dog, and another dog she rescued from Mt. Hood, where she found her tied to a tree, shot by BBs. She had two in-door cats and three outdoor cats. She would cry if she thought any were in danger or sick. She thought I was wonderful for also loving animals, and she came to my door crying when she heard my dog had died.

She told me that, in her younger days, she'd manufactured meth, been a volunteer firefighter in Virginia, wrangled horses in Wyoming, rode with the Gypsy Jokers, and had a BS in biology. She was appalled I am an atheist. She went to church every Sunday, unless she didn't feel up to it. She moved to Forest Grove because it was last on the bus line from Portland in this direction, and she felt like this was a good place to be far away from "bad influences." She told me many times that she wanted to "live right" now, because she hadn't been a very good person for so long.

She was living off of social security and disability, and I have no doubt that she would have been homeless were it not for those programs. And what's sad is that, in the USA, she was one of the lucky ones: a disabled, elderly woman with no family, able to keep a (leaky) roof over her head.

I bought food for her dogs and cats, and helped pay for one of her cats to be fixed. I also walked her dogs when I had the time, along with a man from the group home for mentally-disabled adults - he considered her his best friend, and they had supper together almost every night.

Every time she said something hateful - about wanting her flat mate to die or wanting to get someone in trouble with the police or whatever, I would say her name and, "Is that what you really want? Do you think that's what's best?" and I could always get her to recant and reconsider and calm down. I told her once I was disappointed in her for something she said and she apologized for it every time I saw her for at least a month.

I lived with this woman, in this neighborhood. I decided it would be better to be her friend than to make her an enemy. I've had some really horrible neighbors, MUCH worse than her - unlike them, she never bothered me, never made me regret moving here, never gave me any cause to call the police or the person in charge of city codes or anyone else. I also think that kindness is something that shouldn't have to be earned and that kindness makes the world a livable place; I'm kind to anyone, including people I don't like, and will continue to be until that kindness is taken advantage of or rejected or I become frightened of you for some reason.

I had planned on going to see my neighbor last evening, after I was home from Europe, because she had been so worried about me going, and had asked my husband how I was whenever she saw him. But I didn't go see her - I had to go to the emergency room from the airport for a little problem of my own I was having, and when I finally did come home, did a little unpacking, and had some Chinese food, I was exhausted from jet lag and my little medical issue, so I went to bed. I walked by her house this morning, and was told that she'd been taken to the hospital late last night.

My neighbor died this morning.

I doubt there will be a funeral - there's no money to pay for such, and I don't think she was in touch with any family, though I hear a daughter showed up at her apartment at some point today. Her apartment-mate has said he'll take care of her two dogs this month, and maybe next month, if he can figure out a way to pay November's rent, but that he'd appreciate my trying to find a home for them. I've already pretty much adopted one cat, but there's at least two more that need homes. I fear that I'll walk by in a few days and the place will be emptied and I'll never know what happened to the animals or her things.

Her flat-mate, whom she threatened to kill on at least two occasions with me, said "She was too mean to die", and I know she must have alienated a lot of people, including her family, if she has such; maybe she ruined so many birthday parties and Christmas's, asked to borrow money and called to be bailed out too many times, picked too many fights, and hurt and betrayed anyone who could have loved her - maybe her isolation was all of her own making. I get that, and I respect anyone's decision to cut off ties with someone who has hurt them so, even a blood-relation.

But I could judge her only on what I saw and experienced here and now, and what I saw was a woman who loved animals, whose compassion for them was true and deep, who was always happy to see me and who loved her neighbor friend that she spent so much time with. Am I and that neighbor friend the only two people in the world are mourning her?

I'll miss her stories. I'll stress over finding homes for these animals - I fear that one of the dogs will be branded as un-adoptable by whatever authorities decide such and will be doomed to be put down, and the cats will be forced outside just as winter begins. My husband will be annoyed at how much time I stress over this.

And whomever moves in to that apartment will be worse. Far worse.

I'm sad for my neighbor. My friend. I'm so sorry I couldn't be kind to her one more time.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Complaint to Frankfurt Airport Security

From the Frankfurt Airport web site:

Information about entrainment of goods in the hand luggage or check-in luggage e. g. will be provided by the German Federal Police. The Federal Police will also deal with compliments and complaints concerning aviation security matters.

Criticism and suggestions

The following was sent via email to both of the aforementioned email addresses:

On the evening of Monday, October 13, I came to Frankfurt airport with my husband for a 20:45 Aer Lingus flight to Dublin, Ireland. My husband and I began walking to our departure gate as soon as the gate information was posted on the announcement board. As we passed the first G gates, we noticed that all of the gates in that section were fully staffed with German security personnel, but were empty of travelers - the security staff was standing at their stations with nothing to do. However, when we got to the next set of G gates, we were shocked to see a line of more than 20 travelers extending out to the pedestrian walkway, because just one gate was open. We stood in line and our shock continued: just one staff member was addressing each traveler as they prepared their items for the x-ray machine, and he was oh-so-slowly picking up almost all of the items placed in bins for his own examination, while at least five other security staff stood around on the other side of the barrier, talking, sometimes laughing. We expected another line to open - there were plenty of security staff none too far away, with nothing to do - why hadn't anyone called even one group to come down and open a second line?

One security staff member spent most of our time in line trying to realign one of the barrier doors. She spent a long time trying to adjust the door - which looked perfectly fine as it was, was in no one's way, and no one was trying to go through it, as it was almost entirely closed. We learned later she was the security staff supervisor - she really though moving a door five inches was more important than shifting staff from the other gate section to here?

At long last, it was my turn to go through the security line. As an experienced international travel, I know how to place my items in different bins and onto the conveyor belt quickly and appropriately, and how to ensure I have nothing on my person that might set off the x-ray alarm. The one security staff member that was speaking with customers in line slowly went through my items, then asked me if I had any liquids. "Right there" I said, pointing to my already unpacked back of cosmetics. "Oh, okay" he said, lethargically moving my items closer to the machine. I stood in front of the body x-ray machine, waiting to be told to walk through. The security staff on the other side were having a chat together, both leaning on different machines, having a nice, casual evening. Finally, one glanced up and waved me through. As no alarms went off, I walked to retrieve my things that had gone through the x-ray machine, and as I reached for my watch, a security guy grabbed the tray that held it and tried to shove it away from me further down the belt. I grabbed the tray and said, "Excuse me." Then reached down for my watch. He looked at me and said, "Do you have a computer?" I said I did. "I'll need to do a security check on it." Then he pointed to a computer coming through the conveyor belt. "This is your computer?" I said no, and saw that my computer, in its tray, had already been shoved down to the far end of the belt. "That's mine down there" I said. He smirked and said, "You will wait here, and I will get someone to check it." Note: he did not see a suspicious computer and decide to check it - he was ready to test someone else's computer merely because he thought it was mine. He was doing this test only because I had annoyed him. He then turned away from me and began talking and joking with a colleague. I said, "Excuse me, but could I know your name please?" He smirked and looked away. I tried to see his identification badge, and when he saw me looking, he tucked it into his shirt so I couldn't see it, and he walked further away from me. After what seemed like a few minutes, I said, "Excuse me, but I have a flight to catch, and I will miss it if I stay here much longer," He turned to me, smirked, and said, "Yes, I'm getting someone." Until then, he had made NO effort to find someone to do this suddenly-needed computer check - a check he had decided to do NOT based on the look of the computer, but because he did not like me. He called out for someone and, finally, a person came walking up and I was directed to go with him to another room so he could check my computer. I told that person as we walked that I wanted to speak to a supervisor and I wanted to file a complaint. He seemed very apologetic.

My computer was checked, and then a supervisor was brought. I was stunned to see it was the woman who had spent so much time trying to move the door instead of shifting completely unoccupied staff to the crowded security line. She didn't have a business card - or so she said - and took a few minutes to finally find a brochure that she said I could fill out and give to her. Knowing that the brochure would most likely end up in the trash rather than be given to anyone, I chose to write this email instead.

I never yelled. I never used inappropriate language. I never tried to distract anyone from doing their job. I followed all security staff instructions immediately. I was in no way at fault this night.

We proceeded to our gate, we sat down, and within 5 minutes, probably less, our flight was called to board.

Everyone on staff that night at the security gate line in Frankfurt deserves to be reprimanded for their unprofessional behavior. By being more focused on their own amusement and on inconveniencing travelers and taking punitive action against someone who dared to speak out, they took their focus off of doing what should be their job: ensuring we are all safe to travel. The behavior of your staff that night was shameful.

I hesitate to send this email, as I am flying again from Frankfurt soon, and I know that it will be within the power of the Frankfurt airport security staff to complicate my future travel based on my making this complaint. So I am also posting this to my public travel blog, and will be blogging about any further unprofessional behavior on the part of Frankfurt security staff I encounter, so that the public can see for themselves if this email results in further negative behavior on your part.

I also want to add that the Dublin, Ireland security check point staff was friendly, efficient and very professional in their approach, in stark contrast to the Frankfurt airport. I not only felt happier after I left that check point, I felt safer - and passenger safety is what should be the priority of your staff. Based on what I witnessed, it is not.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Insults on a plane

A dear friend was on a long-distance flight across the USA within the last 24 hours of my writing this blog. She was sitting next to a teenage boy. She glanced at his phone and saw he was tweeting that he was in middle seat next to "fat bitch." She said "Really, dude?" And he said "Oh, just trying to be funny."

She sat there in the seat, feeling humiliated, for almost an hour. As she said on one of her social media accounts where she related this story, which I'm retelling with her permission, "I finally decided that listening to him have fun while I felt awful was just too much."

Awful. She felt AWFUL. Can you imagine how she felt? I can. The feeling - the pain - makes my skin crawl. I know exactly how she felt.

She walked to the back of the plane and asked the Alaska Airlines flight attendants if there were any other seats available. "When they said no, I explained the situation and that I felt uncomfortable staying in my seat. I wasn't trying to get him in trouble; I just really wanted to move. They were all immediately sympathetic and the people in the last row offered for me to sit with them. The guy who swapped seats with me was really nice about it."

So, already, my faith in humanity is restored at this point in the story - the flight attendants were genuinely sympathetic, and random strangers in the last row of the plane offered to help out. That's just what you need in a situation like this - to know that you have, indeed, been horribly wronged, and that people want to help you.

As she said in her retelling,"I went back and got my backpack and said to the kid, 'What you wrote was cruel. It was really mean and not ok.' After I sat down in my new seat, one of the flight attendants went up and talked to the kid. At this point, his dad who was sitting in the row in front of him figured out what was going on. After a little while, the dad can back with tears streaming down his face, apologizing for the behavior of his son. He was horrified and I felt so bad for him. I assured him that I didn't think his son was a bad person, just a young person who needs to remember that words hurt people. We talked for awhile."

To know that the Dad was ashamed for his son just makes this all the better. That's beyond awesome. That's as it should be.

She added, "Then the boy came back and sheepishly apologized. He seemed genuinely apologetic." I should note there that I am NOT ready to cut that kid any slack. Especially since, 16 hours later, that tweet is still up. And that tweet is even worse than she's related, but I cannot quote it verbatim to show you just how bad it is because then you would be able to find him on Twitter, and she has forbidden me or any of her friends from outing him. My friend is, obviously, a better person than me.

She said, "After the flight, I saw them all again. The father and I embraced and while he had said there would be repercussions for his son's behavior, I urged him to make it about learning not punishment. The kid waved to me and again seemed genuinely sorry." Did I mention that, 16 hours later, the tweet is still there? And favorited by five different people already?

She also said, "The flight attendants were super kind and gracious and gave me unnecessary perks like a free video player." You rock, Alaska Airlines!

Of course, when she related this story, so many of her friends, myself included, jumped in to say what an incredibly classy, wonderful, awesome human being she is. My comment, "you are just pure GRACE. I mean it. I'm blown away at how you handled this. I could never, ever have handled it so well. You are a goddess."

I hope that all you parents out there will have a talk with your kids about both social media, about shaming people for any reason, including their weight, and about sexism. Explain to them that, indeed, words hurt.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Back to being plain Jayne

I had this incredible dream: I was working for a major international organization that was helping Ukraine with a range of issues, from recovery of armed conflict in the East, preparations for winter amid major infrastructure damage and the displacement of more than 300,000 people because of Russian aggression in the East and South, to addressing severe corruption, to addressing some of the worst HIV/AIDS and TB and other health issues in all of Europe. People all around me were working on these and other issues, and I was writing about their work. My phone rang a lot. There were lots of important meetings that were rarely boring. Every day was an adventure. Every minute was filled with something to do - and I had SO much to do. I felt so important! I even glowed! I took pictures almost every day.

But it couldn't have been true, because I'm in Germany, and it's raining, and there's not much to do, and no one here is talking about Ukraine, and I'm just the usual unemployed not-so-welcomed non-German speaking girl from the USA who no one knows what to do with. And I'm not glowing. And there's nothing to take photos of. 

I sure loved that dream.  

I knew re-entry would be hard. I thought I had prepared myself. I was wrong. I'm completely lost. My work email still works, and I opened it today, and there was a sea of important emails - about visitors from abroad and new initiatives and even some questions from people who didn't know I was already gone. And I almost burst into tears. 

This is going to be so much tougher than I thought. 

Shout out to my friend Lis in Bonn who made me feel oh so important again, and very, very welcomed, for a few hours here in Deutschland.

I'll get to feel important again next week, when I go to Ireland to present at a conference. But until then... well, here I am. I actually do have a few more photos from Kyiv, but no way to get them off my camera and upload them. I'll do that in a couple of weeks, when I'm back in the USA. I wonder if I'll cry...