23. marec 2008

The Second Day - Tony

If I began by describing my second day in the hollow from six o'clock in the morning I would be leaving out quite a few long hours of suffering. That first night and every one of the subsequent nights all seemed very long to me. For a few times I maybe dozed off for about 15 minutes, but for the rest of the time I was shaking, thinking, looking into the sky, turning around (though only a little) and waiting, waiting, waiting – for the so-much-desired next day. The daylight also brought with it higher temperatures, and my hopes for salvation were renewed.

The main problem was the cold. On Nevis, like anywhere else in the Caribbean, for most of the year the daytime temperature is 27 or 28 degrees Celsius. However, after the nightfall, and especially if the night is windy or rainy, it gets cold, so that even by the coast one has to put on a shirt with long sleeves, or perhaps a warm cardigan. I don't know what the temperature was in my hole, which was at an elevation of about 700 meters, but it must have been much lower than the temperature on the coast. For a few times the cloud encircling the mountain brought with it fog and wind to where I was lying.

There wasn't enough level ground around me, so I had made my nest in a smallish hole that was full with stones. I made my bed by putting some greenery over the stones, which meant that I had at least a bit of a base, and used the rest of the leaves for my “blanket”. I always had to lie in a curled-up position, and only on my back because there wasn't enough room for me to stretch out on my front. Sometimes I could turn onto my left side, but never onto my right because my right thigh was still very painful. Every time I turned the leaves fell off me and it took me quite a long time to put them back over my body. The two things that protected me the most from the cold were my rucksack, into which I put my feet, and the tee shirt that I wrapped around my knees. Two or three times a night I had to get up to “replace” the liquid in my plastic bottle. Before nightfall, I had placed my full bottle close to me. Now, the first thing I had to do was to empty it (I no longer had any problem with the taste of the liquid), then I again urinated into it, covered it with the top, and put it back in its place.

After the first night, daybreak came at six o’clock, I began by stretching out my sore arms and legs, and then I had a more systematic look around my new “dwelling”. The hollow was spread out in different directions and was very “untidy”; there wasn’t enough level surface to put down a chair (not that I had one). The water had deposited a lot of very smooth rocks, some were huge, a few metres high. Under and between these rocks, tree trunks were decaying and among them various plants were quickly sprouting: from moss and thin grass to palm-like trees that were a few metres high (I later learned they are called ”traveller’s trees”). The fern, exactly the same as we find in Slovenia, was the most suitable for making my bed. The configuration of the ground was very uneven – during the day I could only move around on hands and knees, whereas during the night any moving away from my nest, which was made at the bottom of one side wall, would have been impossible.

I checked again the precipice leading towards the other hollow and became convinced that it was completely impassable for somebody without a rope. Just to stand on its edge was dangerous because it was very smooth and covered with moss, like the one above me from which I had slipped the day before. The two sidewalls were partly overgrown, but very steep, even overhanging, so that I couldn’t have tackled them without any protection. This part of the canyon was so narrow that high above me I could see a tree trunk that had crashed down on one side of the canyon and got caught by the wall on the other side. It looked like a footbridge, and I wondered whether the rescuers could perhaps use it to tie a rope to, and then throw the rope down to me. No, I thought, it would be better if they could come down to me on a rope using the same spot from which I fell, and then help me climb out of the hollow. I doubted that they could save me with a helicopter because the canyon was so narrow that the swinging rope could get caught against a wall, and the helicopter crew would then be in danger.

On the other hand, I was sure that the rescuers could use a helicopter to spot me from the air, at least in relatively bright and cloudless conditions. I kept my white (and still wet) underwear spread out on the dark rocks. I also tied a white plastic bag to a long stick with which I would wave to the rescuers. For just one hour, between midday and 1 pm, my hollow was exposed to the sun and for these occasions I prepared a few shiny objects so that I could attract their attention by reflecting the light. I hoped that the rescuers would already be looking for me from the air that day – and that they would find me. I was sorry to think that I had lost another day that I could otherwise use for swimming and enjoying Nisbet, but, I thought, the most important thing was not to miss the reserved flight to Orlando.

I decided to have a small breakfast – not so much because of hunger, but simply because I knew I needed to renew my energy. I had brought with me a packet of biscuits and I decided to eat a few. However, my attempt to do so made me panic for the first, and fortunately for the last, time during my compulsory stay in the hollow. When I put a dry biscuit into my parched mouth and started to chew it, the pastry tried to absorb the moisture from my mouth, but there wasn’t any. The food got stuck in my mouth and when I tried to swallow the biscuit, it also got stuck in my throat so that I couldn’t even spit it out. In addition, the dry crumbs entered my windpipe and I found it difficult to breathe. I knew I quickly had to get rid of this lump. I took another biscuit, soak it in urine and then sucked it. By the time I had cleared my throat and windpipe, my desire to eat was gone and a few biscuits remained in the packet until I got out of my hole – and maybe they are still there.

I realised that food wasn’t essential. My 78-kg body had enough reserves. A few years before a colleague from the Parliament, Lojze Peterle, had told me about his voluntary fasting that sometimes lasted up to ten days. Then I found it hard to imagine not eating anything for one whole day, let alone for several days. I believed I would suffer from unbearable pains in my empty stomach and I would quickly die. I also remembered Lojze telling me that fasting could be without any harmful consequences, but only when you consume a lot water or other refreshing drinks.

While I was waiting to hear the first sounds of the rescuers, I tried to find a way of obtaining a liquid other than my own. The hollow was located at the edge of the rain forest – the clouds encircling the peak sometimes came down to this part of the mountain – so I expected to have some rain soon. Hence, I made myself busy by finding some objects that would help me collect a few extra decilitres of water. I found some very wide and almost metre-long leaves that seemed perfect for this purpose. I placed some of them so that the water from the leaves would run into two plastic bags, and the others in such a way that they would hold the water.

Soon I could hear a sound, but it wasn’t coming from the rescuers. There was a plane in the distance, most probably one with a small engine and propeller. Such planes were used for transporting tourists from the nearby airport in Basseterre situated on the neighbouring island of St. Kitts to the New Castle Airport on Nevis. On my first visit to the island I had been surprised to find out that such flights took only five minutes. The Nevis Express is a nice feature of this small island because it saves tourists at least an hour, which they would otherwise need to cover the same distance by ferry. I believe they belong to the category of sports planes, which have only eight seats for the passengers. Being stuck in that hole, I was egocentrically assuming that it would be logical for the rescuers to look for me with those Express planes. However, although I kept hearing the sounds, they never got close enough for me to grab hold of the long stick and start waving with my improvised flag. Since the sounds repeated at regular intervals, a shadow of doubt was cast over my initial hopes. I began to suspect that I could only hear the planes as they went about their regular daily flights. For the whole day I focused my attention on the sounds coming from the sky. Sometimes I could hear a louder sound, but never one belonging to a helicopter, which I so eagerly wished to hear. I thought I was probably only hearing the bigger passenger planes on their way towards St. Martin, just flying over Nevis in order to approach the airport in Basseterre.

Do I have the right to expect the rescuers to look for me with the planes that were needed for other regular services? Is my recklessness a good enough reason for an extensive rescue operation organised by people who have other jobs to do? The answer immediately occurred to me was: Miriam will ask for it and certainly convince them to do so. She must be so worried by now, and she will do everything possible to find me. Yes, I can certainly rely on my wife; if renting a helicopter is needed, she will rent it. It is so comforting to know that in a situation like mine, out there you have somebody you can really rely upon.

That day there was nothing else I could do to get rescued and had plenty of time, so I decided to document what then still seemed to be only an adventure. I had with me an excellent Kodak 290 digital camera, which also allowed me to record sound messages (interestingly, these took up much less memory than the pictures). I had first tried it the year before and brought back many beautiful photos from Nevis. I had with me three memory cards: two of them held as much as 32 MB. One was already full, the second was half-full and the third one was still empty. I knew that the battery wouldn’t last long enough to allow me to use all the memory that I had, but I was sure that I could take a few dozen photos and a similar number of sound recordings. So I started: first I took a photo of my wounded leg, which looked quite horrible. Its appearance was even worse than the actual pain: the swelling on my right thigh was at least five centimetres thick, though fortunately it was not septic. Using the automatic shutter release, I next took photos of myself sitting in my nest, which I didn’t even bother to tidy because I was so sure I would leave my “apartment” that day. I also took several photos of the fatal wall to document my accident, which I could later show to everybody. Optimism was still my prevailing mood, so I felt no need to say anything into the camera. I thought I would anyway soon be able to tell the rescuers in person what had happened to me.Well, the rescuers…

It is already afternoon and there is still no sign of them. If they are going to be this late, then the rescue operation will continue until late at night. Will I then not be able to enjoy any of Nisbet again, since we already plan to leave for Orlando tomorrow? That would be a great pity…

I hope that Miriam hasn’t told my mother, who is back home waiting for us on her own, anything about this accident. The day before my planned climb up this mountain I had talked to her over the phone and told her I wouldn’t call again on the following day, but promised to be in touch again on the day after, which is today. Miriam will certainly call her, but I hope she won’t mention any of this. We can explain everything to her later when the danger has passed.

The time passes. I have nothing to do, so I am just lying down and saving my energy. I also watch the rare animals that live here with me. Colibris are frequent visitors: they whiz past me at such high speed that they produce an unusual sound similar to snoring. When I heard them during the night I thought there were some big animals nearby, but now I can see that it is these harmless creatures that produced the sound. The nearby jungle above me is swarming with various other birds, which I can hear better than I can see. On the ground and between the plants there are several insects – all of them are quite harmless. Sometimes I spot those monkeys that I so much wished to see at the beginning of my climb: here they are also very shy. I have a feeling that they noticed me much earlier than I noticed them and that they are afraid of me. However, in the evening they become very playful and start flinging things around, sometimes these things end up in my “apartment”.

It’s growing dark. Does it mean the rescuers won’t find me today and I will have to prolong this compulsory camping? Will my teeth chatter through another night in this nest? It seems likely. In this case I have to gather more leaves and make my bed better than yesterday.

To spend two days without food and water in the wilderness is no longer a harmless adventure. Dear God, you saved me from death during my fall, but apparently it is Your will that I remember this event for ever. Is there any other, deep message in all of this? Is there a warning? I am praying. I haven’t prayed this solemnly for a long time. Actually, for a long time I haven’t felt Your almightiness this intensely. You can save me and You can condemn me. I am humble at Your presence.

Having so much time on ones hands triggers some strange ideas and various associations in the mind. While pondering my fate, I often unintentionally began to search for my own guilt, which might have caused this misfortune.

Since my childhood I have respected the belief that we should never feel too certain about the things to come: on many occasions the very things we claim will never happen to us, do happen in the end. Had I perhaps caused my bad luck the other day by jokingly saying the words: “I hope not to see you again!”?

This is what happened: Two days before my unfortunate climb, Toni’s eyes became inflamed and he was crying a lot because of the smarting pain. While crying he also started to rub his eyes and that made the pain even worse so that his tears were pouring down his face. My wife and I first thought that a splinter got stuck behind his eyelid, but it soon became clear to us that his eyes were inflamed due to a lot of diving in the chlorinated swimming-pool water.

During the children’s dinner we asked to see the hotel doctor, but we had to wait for him for some time because he had to drive from the faraway city of Charlestown. Dr Jacob Chandy was a very kind and experienced doctor, who brought with him the appropriate medicines (the drops, a cream, as well as the tablets). We gave some of them to Toni immediately and kept the rest to use in accordance with the doctor’s precise instructions. The fee of one hundred dollars didn’t seem too high considering that the doctor had to drive to our hotel in the evening and that it also included the costs of the medicines.

When at the end we were courteously saying good-bye to each other, something put a few humorous words into my mouth. I even told the doctor I was going to make a joke and then I said: “I hope not to see you again!” Of course I was referring to Toni, and the doctor understood that I just wished that my children would be well, and not need his help again.

Still, how inappropriate the words sound now: “ I hope not to see you again!”

Have those very words taken revenge on me?

Oh, how badly I need a doctor now!

And I shouted out of my terrible hole: “Doctor, I hope to see you again!”

The only luxury I can indulge in while lying in this hollow is on a spiritual level. My thoughts can fly wherever I wish them to go and I can think about anything. I bet millions of slaves and prisoners comforted themselves in the same way while dominating masters or jailors were all around them, able to take away from them almost everything, including life, only their freedom to think remained.

In order to forget the cold I make a conscious decision to think about a topic that truly interests me and is also important for my country. I don’t need much time to find out that one such topic important to me is politics. However, in a country in transition the politics are quite different from the politics in other, more established countries.

The paradox of all politics is that on the one hand most of the people ignore it, it is unpopular or even despised; on the other hand, it is in the centre of everything that happens in a society and without it not even the smallest local community can exist, let alone the whole state. In general, people can say nothing good about politics, and they constantly criticise politicians. At the same time, they like to watch them every day on the main TV programmes, and a large number of candidates compete for every vacant political post.

It is a fact that organised life needs decision-making, and that democracy, as it was developed by the ancient Greeks, is the most appropriate, or the least harmful, frame within which we can take decisions and ensure the best possible role of an individual in society.

What I am most interested in, and would now like to play with mentally, is the relationship between the right and the left in politics. Though it is now trendy to deny this division and replace it with completely new terms (and in many countries the political situation really isn’t so simple that we could quickly identify their parties as either left or right), I am convinced that this polarisation is as much a “necessary evil” as is democracy itself. This is really a natural law: whenever we divide a group of people into two parts, one of them will always have a tendency towards the left and the other towards the right.

In a society with a free exchange of information and uninhibited social relationships (here I am taking into consideration only the healthy social environments) people will spontaneously opt for one of the political sides: they can do this only in their minds, or alternatively, they can show their loyalty to one side by voting for it, or even by becoming a member of a particular party. The parties, as well as the voters, can also claim to be in the middle, between the two polarised political sides, but even such groups will inevitably consist of their left and right groupings, and will, in the course of time, swing from one direction to the other. Undoubtedly, in a real democracy both sides are equally legitimate. It is ideal if, in a society with a strong democratic culture, the dialogue between the two sides can be carried out tolerantly and within a frame of precisely defined rules. In such a case different parties are opponents, but not enemies.

Revolution represents the most serious threat to such democratic societies; in a revolution, violence replaces argument. I remember how puzzled I was at my grammar school (though I wasn’t allowed to express it) when the teachers told us that the proletarian dictatorship was a logical and inevitable change in the history of mankind. There must still be a lot of old textbooks on the subject stored away in old attics, but I still find it as difficult as ever to understand those times. As a teenager I even looked up the word “dictatorship” in various dictionaries, and in all of them I found a negative explanation, based mainly on its rejection of democracy. However, according to our teachers, the proletariat had a right to it.

In my homeland the proletariat seized power in the same way as in many other, mainly Eastern European, countries. To put it bluntly: the political elite, called the communists, claiming to act on behalf of the proletariat, seized power, and in this cunning way gained political control, wealth and fame. The proletariat continued to toil in the factories and in the fields, while its representatives enjoyed their stolen wealth and sailed around on their yachts (as is still the case in Cuba, North Korea and other countries with a similar regime).

In Slovenia this hi-jacking of democracy had terrible consequences. From 1945 to 1990 the proletarian dictatorship infringed citizens’ basic rights, prevented free enterprise, hindered normal economic development, suppressed religious practice, destroyed traditional Slovenian values and crippled the up-bringing of children and the education of the young. A whole generation lived and died under this oppression.

It is understandable that in all those decades the ruling class, with the help of the education system and the monopolised media, completely changed and distorted the way of thinking and subdued traditional values. Among other things, it also corrupted our notions about the division between the left and right in politics: the left was a synonym for progress, while the right was seen as reactionary and evil. The people on the political left were automatically respected as expert workers; the ones on the right were treated as dilettantes. (The members of the opposition that were elected to the first Slovenian parliament also suffered from being labelled like this when confronted by the experienced “experts”.) Even ten years after our liberation the distorted belief about the superiority of the political left remains. And only about two years ago did certain political groups dare declare themselves as being on the right.

I have always been a pronounced, though not an extreme, rightist (I hope to remain one for many more years). An extreme rightist is just as dangerous as an extreme leftist. When, in 1989, I attended an excellent seminar that the (right-wing) European Democratic Union organised in Vienna for the newly emerging political parties in Slovenia, the organisers also prepared for us lectures about the dangers of extremist right-wing politics. The speakers explained the nature of extremism in a way I will always remember: they told us that the line connecting the left and right political poles is not straight, but it takes the form of a circle – if we follow the line from the top of the circle on either the left or the right side, we always end up at the point where the extremes of both sides meet. The same idea was conveyed by a theatrical production called Under Prešeren’s Head that was produced during the time of socialism. During the performance an actor snapped at the contented audience that was applauding in the safe darkness of the dark theatre: “Communists or fascists – you are all the same.”

While talking to myself now, in this cold, can I, a convinced rightist, objectively explain the essence of the left and right wings? In doing this, I shouldn’t base my argument on the practices of politics and parties in those countries where, due to certain historic developments and national influence, the left parties behave as the right parties or vice versa. To answer my question I have to consider the basic human values and characteristics of different people. Then I will find out which mutual beliefs join the left- or the right-wing people.

A first glance at the different political programmes might suggest that the rightists are more individualistic than the leftists. However, after considering the personal nature of both, I believe that the truth is just the opposite. As a private person, a leftist is much more individualistic; to him the most important issues are personal independence and freedom, and he will always emphasize liberal values. If God is authoritarian, the leftist finds Him inaccessible or even thinks that God rejects and limits him. When a leftist isn’t forced to follow religious hindrances and the society (the nation) isn’t his most important preoccupation, then he also has more freedom in his personal life and he is more relaxed about various moral dilemmas, like family and sex.

As a private person the rightist is more closely connected with other people, he accepts that rules are needed in any human community, and he is also more prepared to give up the rights of an individual so that the community as a whole can function better. To a rightist, religion is more acceptable or even necessary because it includes numerous rules that regulate the behaviour of a society. The rightist can be humble in his relationship with God without having his pride diminished. The society, the nation and God demand consistency that pays him back (or takes revenge on him) by giving him strong moral impediments and a feeling for sin.

I think I can guess what political decisions the two different brothers will take in their later life, provided they act on their own free will. The boy who is livelier, who likes to travel around, is pleased with himself when he is a bit naughty, and prefers singing to serious thinking, will probably turn out to be a leftist. On the other hand, the boy who is quieter and more reserved, who respectfully greets his elders and likes to spend his time reading books, will be a rightist. However, the crucial thing here is that both boys are equally valuable and unique.

The division between the people with left- or right-wing inclinations can be easily disguised by factors other than individual characteristics – the main one is certainly one’s up-bringing. The parents with strong political beliefs usually bring up their children to have personalities with the same political profiles because they can plant their values into the children at an early stage. So it often happens that after the period of teenage rebellion, the children accept the values of their parents even when they aren’t in line with their own personal inclinations. I admit that I, too, would like to take my children into the direction that I consider to be the right one. While doing this I will even cheat a little by using the ability of Toni’s right hand as a metaphor: as his right hand is slightly more skilful and more useful than his left hand, so is the right wing more efficient in the areas of politics and economy.

It is high time, after so many decades, that the Slovenian right-wing politicians find the equal place they are entitled to have. Is it at all normal that after 45 years of the leftist dictatorship, and in a time of free democracy, all our leading politicians are still from the left block (there were only a few short-lasting interruptions to this left-wing dominance)? How many more times in future free elections will Slovenes again elect a left-wing candidate as the President of the Republic? At least for the sake of political culture it should now be the right wing’s turn to hold the presidency. Our boat will capsize if we continue to load it only on the one side.

The reasons for the political distortion that we experience in Slovenia are very clear and similar to the situations in other transition countries. In the decades of dictatorship the governing clique subdued the majority of capable young people, brainwashed them, brought up generations of skilful leftist ideologists and recruited them to fill all the important posts in the media. After the introduction of democracy all these people kept their positions (at that time no other people were available) and now they continue to swamp the public with false information. Those rare, capable people who had managed under the previous regime to resist the tempting or threatening ideas of the government and had given up normal careers, appropriate to their capabilities, later became the targets of the mocking media reporters, victims of cleverly planned political traps or sheer media ignorance. And the worst thing of all is that the previous clique, now acting under the cover of new political labels, has managed to smuggle its loyal members into the new political organisations (in particular, the Democratic Opposition of Slovenia called Demos). In this way they could bring about fights and personal rivalry to undermine the new political parties (in Slovenia these were called the Spring parties).

If the Spring parties in Slovenia don’t manage to unite for the purpose of winning the next parliamentary election and offer Slovenian voters a solid right-wing alternative, then, at least at the presidential election, where the candidates are much more transparent, the voters could choose a right-wing candidate. In this way they would set up a minimum political balance, which would coincide well with our imminent entry into the European Union. This event will mark the final transformation of our country into a healthy state, the end of the transition period and the beginning of a new and, I am convinced, prosperous period.

I would really like to be alive to experience such important changes, as well as so many other wonderful and interesting things that life can bring to us.

From my book: Second Place of Birth: Nevis

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