Footsore for Peace 2: Of Love and Mosquitoes

During
the summer of 2008, I participated in a walk that was organized by a group
called “Voices for Creative Nonviolence.”
Here
is a link to the Voices for Creative Nonviolence website: 
People
from Voices for Creative Nonviolence visit war zones and focus on forming
relationships with ordinary civilians living in dangerous areas. In 2008, their
focus was on Iraq. Voices for Creative Nonviolence organized a walk, called the
Witness Against War walk, that started in Chicago on July 12th and ended in
Saint Paul, Minnesota, on September 1st. The total distance was approximately
500 miles. The goal was to draw attention to the suffering that ordinary people
experienced in war zones. Several of the walkers had spent time in Iraq. Some
had brought medicine and toys to Iraq in violation of the sanctions in the
1990s. There were also people from Voices from Creative Nonviolence who were in
Iraq during the “shock and awe” bombing campaign in 2003. One of our walkers
was an Iraq war veteran, who had joined the U.S. Army shortly after 9/11. He
experienced the horrors of war first hand. After he left the military, he
became a member of “Iraq Veterans Against the War.”
We
walked anywhere from six to nineteen miles per day. Occasionally, we had rest
days, when we could relax, sightsee, climb steep hills, draw, paint, or
practice musical instruments. The story that I am telling today is about the
joys and hazards of nature.
On
the morning of July 23rd, I woke up in the home of our hosts for the
previous night, Ruth and Glenn. Walkers had been placed with various host
families. Two of us, Kathy and I, were placed with Ruth and Glenn. They had
told us the tale of their courtship and marriage. They met in the 1950s and, a
month after they met, they left the country. Ruth spent three years working as
a dietician in Egypt. When the Suez Canal crisis occurred in 1956, she had to
leave because the Egyptian government expelled all of the foreigners. She
traveled to Switzerland, where Glenn was working. During those three years of
being apart, Ruth and Glenn had conducted a courtship via mail. They still have
the letters that they had written to each other.
Glenn
was in Switzerland, working on a business deal. He had previously served in the
U.S. Army in Germany, which, at that time, was occupied by several armies.
Ruth
and Glenn are now the parents of three grown daughters and one grown sons. They
also have several grandchildren. I suggested to Ruth and Glenn that their very
romantic story would make a beautiful book. Glenn said, “I am writing a book
about our story for the grandchildren.”
Ruth
and Glenn gave Kathy and me a breakfast of oatmeal, fresh fruit, toast, and juice.
Ruth, the dietician, added flaxseed to the oatmeal to make it even more of an
anti-cholesterol food than it already is (oatmeal has soluble fiber, which is
an anti-cholesterol feature).
Glenn
drove Kathy and me to the spot where we had stopped walking, just outside of
Waukesha. A photographer was out to take pictures of us. We said goodbye to
Steve, a support car driver, who was headed home, and Kathy, who was leaving
the walk temporarily to give a presentation in Joliet, Illinois.

Then
we started walking. We walked past barns, cows, cornfields, and bean fields. We
walked on a busy highway, with vehicles whizzing past us. Later in the morning,
a man who had been one of the hosts brought Helene’s forgotten sweater to her.
He directed us to the bike path, called the Glacial Drumlin State Trail. We
walked through various wetlands. The terrain was somewhat hilly. That provided
a new challenge for the adventure. We had previously walked on flat land. For
the first time, I observed fatigue and tightness in my legs.
We
enjoyed a delicious lunch in a Mexican restaurant. After lunch, we returned to
the bike path. We then encountered Tim and Bob, who had driven from Chicago to
rejoin the group. Walking on the bike path was interesting. There were short
trees with red cone-shaped seed pods and all sorts of wild flowers. We even saw
some sort of mini-car race on a nearby track.
All
of a sudden, our peaceful world had evaporated. We were under attack. We were
swarmed by mosquitoes. They began to feed on us, and we tried to smack them.
That proved to be ineffective. We then sprayed ourselves copiously with insect
repellant in almost-futile attempt to fend the mosquitoes off. It was very
smelly. The only thing that I managed to
repel with all of that insect repellant was me. It was almost like a horror
movie.
We
had been walking for a long time and had become very silly. I had started
telling the story of all of my twins, evil and otherwise. There is the evil
twin, whose name is Malice. The twin who really doesn’t want to do anything is
named Malaise. The sad twin is called Alas. She spends a lot of time with her
best friend, Alack. After the multiple twin conversation, we shifted to
planning a Wizard of Oz skit so that we could try not to notice that the
mosquitoes were still eating us alive. We handed out roles for the performance.
We had good witches, bad witches, a scarecrow, a flying monkey, munchkins,
Toto, and, of course, Dorothy, who just wanted to go home. 

By
late afternoon, my feet were very sore and I was convinced that the day’s walk
was to be endless. From a distance, I saw something that looked familiar. It
looked like the support bus, otherwise known as the “wheels of justice” bus.
Tim
and I were walking together. Or should I say, we were struggling to walk
together. Our pace had slowed to glacial.
“There’s
the bus,” I said weakly. I struggled to lift my arm, which felt unusually
heavy, as if it were filled with bricks, and I pointed.
“What
bus?” Tim asked. He looked both tired and confused.
“Our
bus.” I pointed weakly again. I started to wonder if the bus that I had seen
was a mirage. Nevertheless, Tim and I walked toward the bus and, finally, we
arrived at the spot where the bus was parked. It was not a mirage. We had
walked sixteen miles. It felt more like twenty.
The
walker group had a meeting and discussed the Obama rally to which we had
invited the next day. It included a picnic, which meant free food. That sounded
good to me. We all got on the bus and went to Deb and Paul’s house, a huge
house where all of us were staying.  Paul
told me part of his story. He said that he used to work in publishing and that
his employer was a company that owned eight magazines. Readers Digest bought
out that company and kept it until it was bought out by someone else. “The
publishing industry is in bad shape, and it is only going to get worse,” Paul
said. Deb talked to us about permaculture, an agricultural system that is meant
to be sustainable and self sufficient.
In
the evening, before I went to sleep, I remembered one of the people whom I met
on the walk. Linda, in Brookfield, near Milwaukee. She talked to me about the
need to repair the world. Linda said that it is a principle in Judaism that
involves acts of kindness and community service to create a better world and to
repair the brokenness in the world. In effect, enough acts of kindness could
potentially repair the world.
The
mosquito bites were very itchy. As I went to sleep, I wondered why the world
was so broken and in need of so much repair.

2 thoughts on “Footsore for Peace 2: Of Love and Mosquitoes”

  1. Cerebrations.biz

    I am so glad I wasn't on that trip. Because there is something in my constitution that makes mosquitos find me and avoid all others. I have the welts to prove it!

  2. I hate mosquitoes. I might have given up under such relentless attacks. Good for you for sticking to it. Great post!

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