Friday, 26 February 2016

Longest Flight South

A few days ago I stumbled upon a Facebook post talking about the Oceanwide Expedition Antartica Contest and an ornithologist's quest to be the winner of the one spot being given away. He is currently sitting in position number three and with the voting deadline looming in just a few days, every second and every click counts. 
The man and his binoculars
And I react to any talent coming from Serbia - yes, I am one of those going nuts every time Novak Djokovic wins a grand slam. I was also the new immigrant single mom dragging my kid to each game the Toronto Raptors played at home vs. Sacramento Kings so he could feel some national pride watching Divac and Stojakovic. I even smile each time I see a Tesla car on the street just because... So yeah, it didn't take me much to go to the page and submit my vote for Dragan Simic. 

But then I got reading about Dragan's passion and how he started as an ornithologist and the story felt oddly familiar. 

Big War Island
Well of course! My mother has been telling me about this boy since I was a teenager. He was the son of her colleague at work and only a few years older than me. When mom got home she would tell me about this boy's adventures and canoe trips to Ratno ostrvo - "Big War Island" - the wilderness zone located in Belgrade, right at the confluence of Sava and Danube river. The island is uninhabited and the only way to access it is by boat. I never knew anyone who would even attempt such a thing, let alone a teenager. Over the years stories of his adventures rolled in. The continents got conquered. Books got written. With the background in journalism and environmental sciences, the world of conservation, ornithology and nature blogging got a best friend.

Journey to India
What always fascinated me when listening about Dragan Simic is that he has never stopped loving, observing and understanding nature. He is one of those fully-dedicated and immersed people who discovered his passion, had a major set-back and never even thought to use it as an excuse. If anything he has focused even more intently on his quests and these fuelled his constant endeavours which brought him as far as India and South Africa. 

The Antartica Expedition will be by far the furthest and the wildest of all Dragan's adventures. There are three more days to cast a vote and boost his standing on the score-board. It is so alluringly close it is tantalizing. The trip is to set sails in Feb 2017 and he is already ready! 

Dragan's big dream is to observe 7 species of penguins and actually take us on this adventure with him through a book with the working title The Only Planet - "which will be about this "voyage of the Beagle", about Antarctica and its wildlife in light of climate changes, the travellers on board the Ortelius and us, mankind on board our only planet."

I feel thrilled and privileged to be a part of Dragan's wings-assembly team. Voting takes a second and it ends February 29th. Join me! 

Sunday, 21 February 2016

F like Fifty, like Fabulous, like Friends

For the last 24h I totally reverted to being a teenager: I went to a party. I met some incredible new people. I danced. I had a beer. I sang my heart out. I laughed out loud. I was happily squeezed into a slow dance. I totally lost my voice. I slept till noon. And woke up to a delicious and already served lunch!

Our Yoga studio
All because of this one woman...

But let me tell the story from the beginning. 

January 2015 in T.O. was brutal. Deep freeze, grey skies, spring nowhere in sight. In lieu of a regular Saturday 'date-night' my husband and I decided to go to a hot yoga class. There is something undeniably sexy in stretching, sweating & suffering together! Bring it on Virabhadrasana II!

We got out of the 75min class happy yet wrung out. The icy rain was drizzling. As we rushed towards the car I heard a scream. I paused. The street was dark, the parking lot packed and although I looked around I couldn't see a thing. I was just about to enjoy the comfort of heated leather seats that would take me to a deserved long hot shower when I heard a deep moan. 

A woman was lying on the very edge of the parking lot having slipped on the ice that has treacherously formed between the cars. She was crying. She said her knee was badly injured. Afraid to move her, I slid my yoga mat under her head while my husband went inside to alert the studio staff and call 911. He came out with a bunch of dry towels and we covered her the best we could offering comfort between her cries - she was obviously in deep pain. 

She said her name was Tanya and asked if I could call her husband. I asked what his name was. 

"Hello, Tom, hi - you don't know me. I am here with your wife Tanya and she is OK, but she has slipped on the ice in front of the yoga studio and injured her knee. We called 911, but you need to come. Her car is here. I am going to hold the phone now so she can talk to you."

As she started talking my ears registered something unusual. My eyes opened widely. 

"Tomo, pala sam. Dodji odmah, molim te..."

The language and the accent were super familiar to me. Not only was it Serbian, it was 'capital city' Serbian I don't get to hear very often. As Tanya said goodbye to her husband, I went:

"Umm... just so you know, I understood everything you've just said. My name is Marina. I'm from Belgrade."

True friendships can start in the most amazing of places, not just in early childhood or during glorious school days. They start while waiting for kids at the summer camp. While flying to a conference. In a haute-couture boutique. While at work. While volunteering half way across the world. During Life Coach training. Or as I'm becoming a better writer. 

How about a dark January night on a f'n frozen parking lot, under the relentless drizzle of ice rain, while our sweat turned into icicles and her knee and everything below it was lying next to her, looking horrendously detached from the rest of the body? 

I think it was the higher power that chose me in particular to find Tanya that night. Apparently, when dialling 911 if one wants them to come right away words such as: head, bleeding & unconscious need to be used. Just a mere dislocated knee? It took about 35 minutes of lying on the icy concrete under now-soaked frozen towels. 

And what is the way to spend those long minutes of anguish well? Entertain the injured woman to no end, so that her laughter masks the excruciating knee pain. 
"Let's see if this Toma of yours is a keeper... I'm gonna time him!"
"I heard that paramedics are hot. Let's channel some serious 911-beef that will be taking care of you, sister!"
"Trust me - I'm a pharmacist. Percocet is fun."

Toma was a keeper. The split time of just over four minutes was only one of the reasons. When the 6'6" towering man emerged from the cab I knew that was the real superhero moment of the night. He knelt next to her, speaking tender words while caressing her wet hair. He assured her all would be alright. 

The silent 'awwww' filled my soul.

The paramedics were not as hot as we - OK, only I - hoped for, but they did have Percocet. Between the four of us, Tanya was lifted on a stretcher and loaded into a flashing ambulance. Like a true 'Mother Courage' she elected for the dislocated knee to be put in back ASAP and not wait for pills to kick in or the x-ray to become available nor the anesthesiologist on call to wake up. Getting shit done - the Serbian way!
Tanya's 50 & Fabulous Party!
Last night we celebrated Tanya-the-fabulous turning fifty. The atmosphere was electrifying, the tunes those we all grew up with in the Balkans, the food delicious. Tanya burned the floor dancing as if that knee never got yanked out after all! If I hadn't already known she was one of those remarkable women you meet in life, I only had to look at her friends - genuine, affectionate, welcoming, funny as hell, uninhibited, letting loose and letting love connect us all. Here is to the next 50! 
Živeli! L'Chaim! Cheers!