the beautiful autumn colors of the Smokey Mountains

2015 USA: October

What Would YOU Ask a Holocaust Survivor?

28 October 2015 | Mri Grout

Quote by a Holocaust Survivor: 'And my question is: just tell me where she was killed or smashed.  Then I could go to that location and get soil from the site to pray for her soul.'
The first place we visited in the actual D.C. area was the holocaust memorial museum. I'd always been fascinated by the morbidity of it all, how a group could get to that point of violence without questioning it. And I don't just mean the Nazis in uniform, but everyone who turned their nose up and back on a Jew – to a person that they once called friend.

The layout and exhibits on display were extremely well done. Not only were they informational, but they were heartbreaking and personal. One exhibit spoke through a child's found diary starting from the very beginning of the Jew 'cleansing.' Daniel used to be on the swim team before Jews weren't allowed. He used to bake breads and cookies with his mom before they were forced to move to a ghetto. At too young of an age, he knew the real meaning of fear and all because his neighbours and those he once called friends and family turned their backs on him for being a Jew. They might not have personally sent him to a concentration camp or murdered his mother and sister, but they damn well helped in all of those things for not one thought to think that what their government was doing was wrong. Worse, they helped to promote it by avoiding the Jews like they were garbage.

But the main exhibit, in my opinion, that is really worth visiting is the 'From Memory to Action.' It talks about all of the other massacres that have been, are, and will be going on. They inform you about all of the different warning signals of a similar catastrophe, with the biggest one being those in power creating a scrapegoat for society to blame for all their problems. Hitler did it with the Jews. KKK did it with the blacks. Isis is doing it with pretty much everyone. Isreal is doing it with Palestines and vice versa. The list goes on and this exhibit informs you of that. In another section, it shows you in gory detail via photos of Syrians dead and tortured. And for everyone that claims these stories are false and that the holocaust never happened, take step into that final room where you'll meet a Holocaust survivor. The one I met was named David.

I walked straight past him at first, then hesitated at the end of the room while I toyed around aimlessly trying to work up some courage to talk to him. I wanted to tell him how brave he was and how much it sucked that he had to go through everything I'd just read about and how amazing he was surviving it all...but I didn't know how to even begin to say that. And then this group of school girls came up and asked him something; I'm not sure what, but we all gathered around and listened.

This man's not just an Holocaust survivor.  His life started and carried on way before and after that.  He is a husband, a father, a person with dreams.He told us how the Nazis ran medical experiments on him, particularly how they threw him on a table and without any anaesthesia, they sliced his neck open like a chicken to see what made his lymph nodes swell. It got infected so they sliced him open again. Again without any anaesthesia. He escaped, but got caught. Over and over he did this until finally a shot in the leg allowed him the grim opening he needed – to play dead until they went away, satisfied that they'd got him.

In silence, we watched as he rolled up his pant leg and showed us the gap in his flesh where the bullet had torn through. We all winced and some gasped, but none could walk away and save our ears and imaginations from the horrors he painted.

But despite all of this, the thing that stuck with me most was his sense of humour about it all. A close second was how he managed to move on, so soon after the Nazis were defeated. He travelled the world, but more than that he truly lived. And it was at that moment that I realized that being a Holocaust survivor isn't what defined him. He was another human being pure and simple; not just another victim for us to take pity on. He had fought too hard for that. He took the shitty hand he had been dealt and had played it for all he was worth.

So when he asked if we had any questions, I finally knew what to say.

“Where did you meet your wife (America)? What was your favourite place to travel(Panama)? Do you have kids (yes and he has grandchildren as well)?”

Running Into Police in America:
A Sad Comparison

27 October 2015 | Mri Grout

With fingers tapping impatiently against the side of the car, I checked the phone as we waited in heavy traffic. Googlemaps currently estimated that we would arrive at the Udvar-Hazy [Air] Museum in about twenty minutes – only one hour and twenty minutes until the museum closed. I'd like to say I was irritated because I knew that wouldn't be enough time for Rob and thus score some brownie points, but really I was just annoyed at the possibility of losing ten minutes of free parking. What can I say? If someone offers free snacks, you can bet that not only am I going to skip lunch and fill up on whatever they've got, but I'm also gonna stuff my pockets enough for dinner. ← The sad thing is I'm actually proud of that...

With a huff of breath I checked the phone again and mumbled a “Yeah” to whatever Rob just said. As you can guess the estimated time of arrival hadn't changed in the last thirty seconds. Maybe the next thirty...

A flash of lights had me checking the mirrors out of habit and I found a police car sitting right behind us. But since we weren't currently going anywhere, it was a safe assumption the cop couldn't either. Ignoring him, I turned my attention back to the phone. Dammit, eleven minutes of lost free parking now. A siren sounded.

“I better try to pull over,” Rob said and I mumbled another “Yeah.”

The lights and siren suddenly stopped and curious to see what they'd done to cut through the traffic, I looked up once more.

Turns out they'd already caught their guy. Us.

Is it bad that my first thought was: Great, that's another ten minutes lost. Maybe more. Instead of: Oh crap, what did we do? Where's the car's registration anyway?

My second thought however, I know was bad: Gotta move slow so I don't get shot. We obviously had nothing to hide, but once that cop came up to the car, the worry immediately set in. He didn't walked up all the way to the window, but stood just behind so not only did he get a good view into the car and where our hands currently were, but he was also at an awkward angle in which to shoot should we want to (we didn't).

He wasn't rude per say, but he wasn't nice and he didn't smile. I get that he's an officer and his job is fairly serious and stressful, but right off the bat we were treated with suspicion. Worse, he felt like he had to do that even though we clearly weren't a threat. When he came over to my side and I had to roll the window down to talk to him I made sure 1. I said what I was doing louder than normal to make sure he could hear as he walked over and 2. I made sure my finger was on the button way before Rob put the key in the ignition so I could roll it down. That way he knew we weren't just going to gun it into traffic (not that we had anywhere to go...).

Still, here I was back home worried I was going to get shot because a glitch in the system said our registration was out of date (it wasn't and we had the paperwork to prove it). But home is supposed to be safe, isn't it? And what happened to innocent until proven guilty? After meeting police elsewhere around the world that are so chilled out and relaxed (even when one's screaming profanity at them for getting woken up at 2am in a 'stolen' van...), it's a harsh comparison. And it sucks. He's got a really shitty job and should he crack...who am I kidding? It'll just get swept under the rug and forgotten. What a shame.

And now for some planes from Udvar-Hazy Museum because it's bedtime and I still can't go to bed with bad thoughts in my head so click on them and enjoy whatever it is I remember about planes. (SPOILER: it's not much)

Though what is it about planes, you ask, that's just so jolly? Rob's excited face and him screaming, “THERE'S NOT ENOUGH TIME!” as he bounced around from one plane to the other, that's what. Haha. It actually made up for the hour and ten minutes I had to look at freakin' planes. (:

Otters at Liberty Hill!!!!...Maybe

26 October 2015 | Mri Grout

After losing two of my sister's dogs, missing the N.C. State Fair to find them, helping to egg my cousin on into accidentally eating pot pourri, and shooting my husband in the head (he still has a mark...), I directed Rob to Liberty Hill, Virginia in a search for the bald eagle...well, sorta. Despite having grabbed its address off the internet before we left (4000 Buggs Island Rd, Boydton, VA) I still couldn't find it, so he was technically directed the final mile by a lady at the visitor centre, but whatever. At least I beat Google maps.

Eager to see some eagles despite our sore legs (oh how I'd forgotten how much of a workout airsoft could be!), we made our way into the trees. It was only a few seconds before we came across something exciting – the trail had been dotted with small informational plaques concerning the different types of trees! How interesting is that!?

Liberty Hill woods
If your answer is 'not much' that's okay. Rob didn't seem to agree with my enthusiasm either as he kept trying to pull me away from them so we could actually walk. Lols. But I don't see how that could possibly be your answer. I mean, did you know that – yeah, I don't actually remember anything I read from them, but still, they were exciting at the time. Haha.

Though not as exciting as all of the woodpeckers hanging out in the top of the trees. Due to the shade of the forest and cloudy skies, we couldn't make out any colours (or shapes really), but there wasn't any doubt that they were there. The quick 'whack whack whack' of their beaks was the only sound echoing through the forest. Now for that exciting part I just mentioned: Rob showed me that if I placed my ear to a tree, I could actually feel the vibrations of their work! Obviously we knocked back, so I didn't get to hear it for as long as I wanted to as it flew off in surprise. Oh well, we were looking for eagles after all.

Having read that they had a preference for seafood, when we met the river, we took a seat on its bench and waited. Waiting normally isn't my strong suit, but with the soft lull of the river in front and the knocking of woodpeckers surrounding us, I found it quite easy to sit in silence and be patient. But given that this wasn't T.V., we weren't immediately rewarded and so that only reinforced my belief that waiting is for suckers.

Though I guess we did see an otter...or rather what maybe, could've been an otter. Truthfully, we only heard a splash and then saw a bit of movement as something swam out onto the shore. I obviously think it was an otter (what else would it be?), but Rob, unsurprisingly, doesn't. Though that's only because he thinks they're really hard to see, so I think his whole argument is invalid. Who cares if we actually didn't see it? I saw the ripples of it, so there. Besides, there were loads of signs that pointed to it being a river otter, with the foremost being (gasp!) it was in a RIVER!

2015 USA: November