Flying lanterns & Safe Returns

Lanterns made of biodegradable material, big and small, yellow colored with more bold red and blue checkered patterns, floated to the sky by the dozens, accompanied by fireworks, on the Saturday of the Resurrection. Traditions such as these, as well as a simple lighting of candles are customary to Orthodox Christians celebrating Easter week in several towns and villages in Greece and other parts of Eastern Europe.

I was in awe of the spectacle in the town of Leonidio former municipality of southern Arcadia, Eastern Peloponnesus. A small town with a traditional “Tsakonika” language dialect, and modern traditions including rock climbing, Leonidio will also have a summer feast of the eggplant  (aubergine) in the summer “Melitzazz” festival with jazz music 🎼

Yes, there are many pagan traditions that have made it across to religious Christian traditions as a fellow blogger rightfully addresses (Aratta) and the above are a welcomed change adding value to our trip while helping the local economy.

However, some practices are more difficult to fathom at close range including fireworks and other “poppers” including shooting guns for “fun”. This includes a random bullet on Easter Sunday landing in an 8-year-old’s head who is now fighting for her life in the town of Thiva, and a cameraman who lost his life at 58 from a misfired firework in the town of Kalamata. Many towns every year have fireworks to bring in tourism but at what costs? And we as viewers need to keep our healthy distance to prevent injury.

Health literacy people, to prevent injury by safe practices! The US Consumer Product Safety Commission puts out some good guidelines  to be safe around fireworks (CPSC) particularly for young children who may be “curious” or sensation-seeking teens and adults who tinker with danger.

May Wreaths

On May 1st we make wreaths from the earth’s bounty!

Take a moment this May 1st to pick your flowers and dance around the May pole (May energy) or rethink labor “rights” traditionally celebrated as “Labour Day” by many countries, neither North America nor Australia (hmm!) , on the side of safety first and occupational health.

“Rotting” from the Inside…Notre Dame, healthy society choices

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The Griffin of Time

Things get old, people get old, some things are preventable or are they? Thus after reading the article in the Wall Street Journal about “rotting from the inside”  the recent devastating fire of Notre Dame Cathedral last week and many that followed including the backlash towards the millionaires who want to rebuild this historic monument it got me thinking of so many related issues of social equity, spirituality, and choices.

Then two fathers in different continents killing their children and then themselves in order to “punish” the wife or girlfriends. The terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka hotels and churches and the intention of harm to a group of people affiliated to a faith (namely Christianity), all akin to the martyrdom of the pre-Christian Roman times. Same story, different century. Schools destroyed in Palestinian settlements by Israel — backlash politics?

In the late 70s we had the band Bee Gees sing the ever popular “Staying Alive” and now we have the “3-Gs” — Globalization, gentrification, girl mutilation (female genital mutilation — no health benefits to girls or women just another act of violence). It’s amazing how power and control works. Check out the Duluth Model (Domestic Abuse Intervention Project) to better understanding these dynamics for continued efforts of change.

Seemingly we can try to protect ourselves but given the randomness of modern times it seems we might affect our own life choices part of the time. My griffin is a reminder of this factor and how precious it is. Thus we should do our best, and build our own and others health literacy, as healthy functioning societies depend on it. Whether via formal or informal  education, and cultural influence we need to give weight on special populations and women. Why? Because our children are happier and thriving when their primary caretaker, usually a mother, benefits too.

One major soccer (football) athlete in the Liverpool team, Mohamed Salah, originally from Egypt, recently stated that men’s attitudes in the Middle East need to change towards women, and give them more credit. Never mind the recent world trends on female infanticide….not good. Yes, women are not just here to procreate, all societies must understand the burdens on women to be caretakers, breadwinners, often with little or no support as well as lower wages.

Let’s keep with the bright side. I was happy to read that despite the church devastation in the Paris blaze, a group of bees managed to make it unscathed;  surprisingly a great number of employees benefit from the honey produced annually — 75 kilograms (165 pounds) to be exact! See full story by Huffington Post  here. And yes, we have a Queen Bee respected by and relied on by her workers for a beehive to thrive in nature. Take the hint people.  Just in time for thinking ahead to Mother’s Day May 12th.

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The Audacity of Hope…Public Health week

The U.S. celebrates initiatives that make people’s lives better during April 1 – 7th national public health week and April 7th is World Health day (celebrated since 1948)!  There are so many issues to ponder over and one to focus on is giving people hope for better communities with less crime, more positivity, better infrastructure, building health literacy and overall wellness.

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Keep areas clean

Before Barack Obama became the 44th U.S. President I read his book “The Audacity of Hope” and years before a book about the community project titled “Streets of Hope” reflecting the community reorganization of a downtrodden area in Boston, the Dudley Street Neighborhood initiative. It is vital to understand how to motivate people and what community organizing is about — sustained efforts long-term. Reframing everything for positive changes does not mean turning a blind eye, but rethinking community strengths and addressing weaknesses. Understanding this first-hand I am constantly checking in to past efforts started and understand what Prochaska and Diclemente did so much research on years ago, the Stages of Change, a great one to add to our tool kits.

Taking the streets of most parts of Athens one sees many historic areas falling apart, trash, many run-down neoclassical buildings and mainly dirty tagging and more trash everywhere. As I travel to various places, I take photos of people’s work in trying to beautify their neighborhoods, often doing it with their own money and supervision. Change starts here, it starts with us, but we need to also maintain these efforts.

We know from the Broken Windows Theory (criminology article by Wilson & Kelling, 1982) that once one person creates a problematic situation like breaking a window other people soon follow. This can extend to modern ‘trashing’ of cities like the images featured above.  One friend’s motivational speech reminded me about social modeling (Bandura, social psychologist, would be  joyous with this) as her quote rings in my ears “if they can, we can too!” Let’s move away from negative to positive changes, see ‘what works’ in other societies and adapt for our own benefit towards long-term community health. Thus the concept of eudemonia goes beyond traditional wellness to incorporate physical, mental, and spiritual health extending beyond our  ‘selves’ to the larger community and global initiatives for all.

We have the right to:

1) clean cities without trash everywhere (Kondo’s method of cleaning house applied here) and most buildings desecrated by vandals. Respect cities.

2) hope for fellow humans to respect themselves and others by caring and helping each other and their environments.  Getting into positions of power to do away with corrupt politicians or any world self-centered mongul, let’s tell them to “take a hike.”

3) invest in health and focus on prevention — efforts like those by the CDC Foundation are prime examples of innovation and high-impact programs. Whether it’s an effort to combat depression or one to increase awareness of the need for vaccinations, efforts like the recent MIT Hacking event prove worthy of collaborative and volunteer work.

4) build infrastructure towards these goals, and be the change you want!

5) promote personal skills and efforts that have the potential to go global. This includes leadership and public speaking from clubs such as Boys and Girls clubs, Scouts, Lions or Toastmasters International (Toastmasters Greece link), and other similar local efforts reflective of these.

Yes we do, and have the right to the ‘audacity’ of hope!

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Do clean up the trash people (a positive reminder, Athens)

We need some ‘snow literacy’

Perhaps it is due to ‘chance’ or is it related to climate changes, but many parts of the world are having some unusual weather.  Take snow in greater Athens.  Unexpected yet so perfect ‘powder snow’ as the image below from Kifissia (Northern suburb of Athens).  In most places it was about 1 foot of snow (0.30 cm.) but in other places over 4 feet (1.22 meters). From the perspective of our individual and community knowledge and what I’ve been seeing in the local news here in Greece, our ‘snow literacy’ is lacking. Then again, some other crazy stories from snow-familiar places like New England (U.S.) who put out calls for snow emergencies are similar — this includes the guy who went jogging during a snow emergency and was accidentally plowed over because the snow plower worker did not see him (understandable due to low light or snow flurries)… or people driving fast in dangerous snow conditions.

There are many types of snow that one can find from places like the ‘National Snow and Ice Data Center’ (Types of Snow, NSIDC). We all can remember at least once making those wonderful snow angels so why ruin that pleasantry with a tragedy film of small-town America which received low reviews this past decade (Snow Angels from the New York Times Review).

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Snow melts, hence ice, hence slippage and likely injury.  You need to sweep and shovel the snow, throw sand or salt on it as it melts, and at night when it is colder tread carefully (including appropriate shoes, and car tires) or not at all.  Avoid slipping, sliding, to prevent injury. Of course on the other hand, some physical therapists, orthopedics and sports doctors will have some extra work!

Question #1 — why go running in your school courtyard if your principal told you not to go out?  This happened to a school today in Northern Greece and the young man (anonymous) at about age 15 (the highest age of ‘sensation-seeking behaviors’ as described by developmentalists) fell and broke his leg.  His parents are now going to sue.

Question #2 — can parents afford to not go to work because their kids’ schools are declared closed?  This is because the municipality does not have appropriate snow plowing machines, no basic shoveling done, and worse no salt to throw on the ice.

Question #3 — unrealistic expectations from some people expecting the government to actually plow their front door or worse, beating up the slow plower person because they did ‘not do a good job’ with the street? This is another unrealistic expectation.

Question #4 — why can’t people be responsible to take care of ploughing their front sidewalk as they do in other parts of the world, else be fined?  This could include cleaning up waste or unwanted tagging graffiti (some of it is done because the thieves want to ‘mark’ their target territory). Since we also want to respect cities I must emphasize the recent ‘fines’ placed on a 15-year-old Greek girl who thought it would be ‘cute’ to write her name and ‘was here’ on a historical bridge in Florence, Italy. She got caught, fined, and could have faced imprisonment.  My final question — why are we not following suit in common sense policies and procedures?

Yes indeed, snow literacy should be one of the fundamentals of survival and overall health literacy.

Silent nights and peppermint dreams…

How many of us have read the now classic American story  “‘Twas the Night before Christmas” which is actually a poem written in the 1800s whose message has been carried through to us today? We all seek the goodness of this holiday regardless of our religious backgrounds. We can feel the quiet anticipation from the  lines “…not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse” or “children were nestled all snug in their beds dreaming of sugar plums which danced in their heads”.

Emphasis on the NEED for quiet and sleep, especially our young ones who need at least 9 -11 hours nightly for healthy brain development (younger babies up to 14 hours) and for us older types at least 6-8 hours are needed for full rest and necessary “beauty sleep”. As a matter of fact our skin does better with more hours of sleep and the need for darkness for melatonin to be released to experience full rest which is one reason for people to get help with insomnia or even sleep lab tests for cases like sleep apnea !

When we travel away from the craziness of the city’s busy sidewalks even though they may be “dressed in holiday style” we may realize (mindfully or not) the necessity of stillness and quiet. Is it any coincidence that many people go to places where they don’t need to talk much or at all? From mountains to yoga retreats, or walking (driving) in chilly evenings to get those night views of fabulous extreme or minimally decorated homes.  Some of us may wish for a white Christmas but for many it is that necessary quiet space that is needed at the end of a busy day of visiting family and friends, or finishing that last minute shopping for a gift or making that fabulous dessert that will cost us our daily caloric intake!

Speaking of which, how many of you feel nostalgic about candy canes or peppermint chocolate/ icecream ? A particular favorite sold only in old time ice cream parlors is popular in certain regions of the US! I particularly loved this recipe made with Greek yogurt by Dannette May for peppermint ice cream (see here) for that extra protein. Also many of us don’t call know that peppermint oil is great for body destressing as it has great healing properties ….

Thus holiday wishes to all and to all a good, quiet, night with a nice peppermint inspired accompaniment!IMG_1666

Post Rafina fires … “I saved my family and property” one family’s story

October 10th is annual World Mental Health day (WHO-MentalHlth) and all that Falls upon us may include recent or past traumatic events, including the Rafina “Mati” fire of July 2018 (see past post ‘Ashes to Ashes‘). As psychosocial and public health professionals we refer to post-symptoms including anxiety and depression, loss of sleep etc. which may be indicative of a post-traumatic stress disorder after a shocking or life-threatening event. Last September I interviewed and photographed one woman and her property in Rafina, 10 minutes away from “Mati” where approximately 100 people lost their lives in July 2018.

Fire moves fast, mostly passing on the ground or heat melting  leaves from trees and plants, or parts of homes.  We heard so many stories of ‘survival’ of people jumping into the sea and swimming for hours to be rescued by the Hellenic Coast Guard, or running down stone pathways away from the fire. Just a few hours…. that was the time it took for utter devastation. This post focuses on survival. How one woman’s story of saving her home and property with her family.   Eleftheria (her name means ‘freedom’ in Greek) is in her 70’s and she made it through using prevention smarts, quick courageous actions during the event, and likely one who has high health literacy.

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This close….I saved my family and property.

Traveling to their home I did not know what to expect.  Realizing the last time I visited the area was the beginning of July, coming ‘this close’ to the now tragically famed “Mati” fire where many people died, many lost their property.  What I encountered left me open-mouthed.  This family’s home was completely surrounded by ashes — several homes and surrounding land were burned to the ground. A few streets down there were blackened charcoal regions, houses with burned windows in a corner part near one of the small ports nearby — there an elderly couple died of smoke inhalation.  They did not know each other — but it came this close — it could have been them….

To my amazement, as we walked around their four-acre land only a few trees were burned, though clearly evidence of heat-fire having passed as if on the surface of the earth’s skin… Now only happy animals play or search for food in this family’s fields.  This includes 40 chickens (only one was lost in the fire because it got scared and wandered off), two dogs — a shepherd and a hound, almost all bee hives were untethered.  I sat down with Eleftheria to hear her family’s story, what they did and how…. in hindsight they took risks but they managed to stay out of harm’s way near cemented parts of the home (like their basement) — we now understand for the area there was no clear evacuation plan of the region by the local municipality or media. As a matter of fact most families watching the news that day thought that the fires were only happening in the Peloponnese in Kineta, and from Pendeli (in Attica) fires moved quick as if in a large downward ski slope all the way trough Rafina, to the Mati area.

“It took two hours”, “I thought it was the end of my parents” said her daughter, “I thought it was the end…” said her husband who is now over 95 years old.  But Eleftheria kept moving fast, protecting the animals, using water, throwing dirt or using large branches and wool type blankets to put out fires.  As she says, the primary reason they survived was due to prevention.  Some neighbors who do not maintain their field or surrounding areas to their home had much damage done. In thinking of around the-year prevention, she shared these tips and actions:

  1. clear bushes and surrounding trash, tall grasses, cut down trees year-round, especially during the fire season (summer, dry months)
  2. some plants/trees like cactus fruit, fig trees, aloe vera prevent fire from spreading due to their deep roots which keep moisture in — maintain and plant more of them!
  3. bee hives should have a solid type foundation away from tall grasses if possible
  4. glass windows closed — wooden or plastic panels pulled away so that fire does not pass, and any melting doesn’t prevent doors from opening (for quick escapes)
  5. water storage areas (wells, containers) replenishing and cleaning fire equipment and extinguishers once a year as maintenance
  6. evacuation route pre-planned if possible (knowing the area, clear road/route signs)

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Eleftheria gives me a jar of honey taking a pose for a photograph. I am happy that she, her family, and all the animals she cares for and loves, made it through this tragedy safe and sound….. may we continue sharing lessons for locals as well as our governments to look at “lessons learned” towards improving communication and better planning efforts.

We deserve better.