Miscounting the bullets and choices that count the most

I have a new morning routine. I am not one of those people who can jump out of the bed once awake. I take my time and try to convince myself to look forward to getting up from the warm and cozy covers. The pillow has such a magnetic pull… So, I tell myself to make something useful of this ‘wrestling match’ and check the news headlines on my phone.

This morning I read the best news which made me so happy to get out of bed and live another day with hope and determination. I have been following the story of shooting of two Indian engineering students in a bar in Olathe, Kansas. One of them was killed and the other survived. One more sad hate crime committed by a distraught and unhappy man who had yelled out racial slurs and apparently thought that the victims were from the Middle East.  For those who have not heard what happened, here is a link to the news from February 22

The backstory brought me to happy tears and it deserves much more publicity.

First of all, the obvious hero in this incident is a local 25 year old guy, Ian Grillot. Someone who would be just another friendly face in a small town. Someone having a glass of beer and talking about going fishing the next day. But while he was hiding under the table and listening to the attacker firing shots, Ian was counting the bullets. Obviously he knows something about guns (as many Americans do) and he had made a fast decision to do something about this unfolding violence.

Ian went after the attacker, thinking that the weapon is out of bullets, only to be shot himself. The bullet pierced his hand and chest, hit his vertebrae and neck and barely missed the main artery. It is a miracle that Ian is recovering quickly and did not lose his life or ability to walk. When interviewed from the hospital bed, he said: “I was just doing what anyone should’ve done for another human being… It’s not about where he’s from or his ethnicity. We’re all humans. I just felt like I did what was naturally right to do.”

Now I found out more amazing details about the other patrons who were in the bar. The survivor, Alok Madasani, was helped a man named who ripped off his shirt and tied it around his leg to stop the bleeding. This act probably saved his life. “And earlier that evening, when the Indian engineers were at the receiving end of racial abuse, a businessman told them he’d taken care of their bill. He wanted to show that the language used by the suspected attacker was un-American.”

I try to imagine the scene and I can almost imagine how this tragic experience has united everyone who went through it. Sadly a life was lost but also the true meaning of life was found. When Ian said that he only did the naturally right thing, I think  about the power of these words and actions. When people use the slogan “Make America Great Again”, I hope they are thinking about Ian and those other brave people in the bar.

Something that was meant to divide and alienate people, has had the opposite effect. The community in this little town now is connected to people in India with a much stronger bond. There are already meetings with diplomats and Indian media and all kind of connections because of this. Also, the feature photo in my blog is from a Peace March and Vigil.

Thank you, Ian, for counting the bullets while not counting  your own life!

Bar Shooting Kansas

Ian Grillot (photos from internet)



30 years later I still cringe at the name of Chernobyl

They say it was a beautiful spring day. What did I do on April 26, 1986? Since it was a Saturday, I must have gone to school in the morning (we used to have school on Saturdays) and then had a weekend to enjoy. I was 12 years old and did not worry about too many things.

But the following weeks and months became the one of the most sad and scary memories of my childhood. Latvia does not border Ukraine but we are not far. People had no idea that 1000 km away we just had the worst nuclear accident in history. A product of severely flawed Soviet-era reactor design combined with human error.Nobody was telling us, the citizens of USSR, anything. Only few days later the first official news started coming through.

Everyone was shocked and worried. I started hearing words like “terrible accident, Ukraine, nuclear plant, Chernobyl, radiation, radioactive cloud, radioactive rain, polluted environment, tragedy, emergency, victims…” There was lots of fear and frustration because the official news in the media was so censored and even false that people did not believe it. Everyone realized it must be much worse than the official version. People were also angry but felt powerless.

One of my friends who grew up in Ukraine, still gets very emotional when she speaks about those events. The annual parade in Kiev on May 1, the Worker’s Day, did not get cancelled. Even though the authorities knew what had happened and how the radiation had spread. Chernobyl is only 135 km (88 miles) from Kiev and thousands of children and youth and adults were parading through the city streets, singing, holding signs of Soviet leaders while everything was covered in invisible radioactive dust.

In childhood I had heard so much about the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that I had horrible pictures of Chernobyl in my mind. Only much later we saw some images of the actual blown-up reactor.  I had never thought about radioactive clouds but the wind blows where it wants and it blew the poisonous particles across large part of Eastern and Northern Europe. I remember being told not to pick wild mushrooms and berries in the woods.

But the greatest fear was very personal. There was a massive forced mobilization of men into military service to go and contain the contamination and clean up the area. Especially young men with construction skills (the average age of those later called “liquidators” was between 30-40) and my dad worked in construction. Mom was indignant at the thought and I was scared and dad must have been worried. I don’t know how aware were my younger brothers. Eventually he was not mobilized. I have never asked but most likely he was exempt because of family and three young children.

I know other men, though, who were forced to go. My stepdad was one of those ‘unlucky’ ones. He had tried to avoid it but the Soviet army truck drove up to their home and soldiers loaded the “unwilling ones” in. They had to take off their civilian clothes and put on uniforms and travel to Ukraine. He spent 6 months in the worst affected region not so far from the epicenter. Since this clean-up crew was now ‘officially’ in the army, they were guarded by other soldiers to make sure people did not desert. And their ‘protective gear’ was rubber gloves and simple face mask.

My stepdad has already passed away from cancer. Not doubt his health and peace of heart were destroyed by the Chernobyl. Nobody knows the actual number of immediate victims and those who died later. The numbers are big and they vary but it is not about the numbers. What we remember is an overwhelming tragedy, people’s sacrifice and bravery and also terrible injustice.

Therefore I can never place April 26, 1986 in the spring. In my subconscious mind it is a very dark dark time.


Liquidator pushes a baby in a carriage who was found during the cleanup of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, 1986

Saka, ka esot bijusi jauka pavasara diena. Ko todien darīju? Neatceros. Tā kā 1986. gada 26. aprīlis bija sestdiena, drošvien gāju uz skolu, un pēc tam priecājos par nedēļas nogales brīvdienām. 12 gadu vecumā nav daudz rūpju.

Taču nākamās nedēļas un pat mēnešus atceros kā vienu lielu, melnu mākoni. Atceros, kā pieaugušie sāka runāt par “briesmīgu avāriju, Černobiļu, atomreaktoru, radiāciju, ārkārtas stāvokli, radioaktīvu lietu” un tā tālāk. Atceros tās bailes un uztraukumu, jo bija skaidrs, ka oficiālās valsts ziņas nesaka visu vai pat melo. Tātad patiesība bija daudz briesmīgāka, ja jau slēpj. Cilvēki bija dusmīgi, un reizē jutās bezspēcīgi.

Kāda man pazīstama sieviete no Ukrainas joprojām nevar runāt par to dienu notikumiem bez dusmām un sāpēm. Kaut vai par 1. maija, Darbaļaužu dienas, gājienu Kijevā, kas netika atcelts, lai gan valdība zināja, kas noticis 135 km attālumā. Tūkstošiem cilvēku – bērni, jaunieši, pieaugušie – priecīgā gājienā ar dziesmām un plakātiem, kas pārklāti ar neredzamo radioaktīvo putekļu kārtu.

Vēl atceros, kā tika apspriests radioaktīvais mākonis un indīgais lietus. Toreiz domāju, kāpēc vējam japūš to tieši uz ziemeļiem pāri Latvijai uz Skandināvijas pusi. Kāpēc nevar to aizpūst kaut kur citur. Un kā lai tagad zin, vai var lasīt tās sēnes un ogas mežā. Un kas man tagad līs uz galvas? Visas tās sarunas likās kā murgs vai šausmene. Bērnībā biju redzējusi japāņu multeni par Hirošimu un Nagasaki, kas man neļāva naktīs gulēt.

Bet vislielākās bailes bija par tēti. Ka tikai nepaņem viņu tajā piespiedu mobilizācijas vilnī, jo viņš strādāja kolhoza celtnieku brigādē. Tieši vajadzīgais vecums un vajadzīgā profesija. (Lasīju, ka lielākā daļa avārijas seku likvidētāju bija vecumā no 30 līdz 40 gadiem. Vidēji 34 gadi.) Mamma bija kareivīgi noskaņota… nekad to nepieļaušot. Mēs taču esam trīsbērnu ģimene. Man bija bail. Neatceros, bet drošvien arī tētis bija satraucies. Beigās vinu nepaņēma. Varbūt tiešām to trīs bērnu dēļ.

Bet citiem ‘nepaveicās’. Pēc gadiem dzirdēju patēva stāstus par šo piespiedu mobilizāciju. Armijas auto vienkārši atbrauca uz viņu mājām Līgo vakarā, jo zināja, kur ‘slapstošos’ latviešus tajā vakarā atrast. Iesauktie vīri pat mēģinājuši mukt, bet kur aizskriesi. Atdod civilās drēbes un velc armijas formu. Viņš nostrādāja avārikas seku likvidēšanas zonā 6 mēnešus. Tā kā oficiāli šie strādnieki skaitījās karavīri, tad tika citu karavīru uzmanīti, lai nebēgtu. Esot bijuši gumijas zābaki, gumijas cimdi, sejas maskas… un nekā cita īpašai aizsardzībai.

Mans patēvs jau aizgājis mūžībā. Ar vēzi un veselu slimību sarakstu. Nav šaubu, ka Černobiļa sagandēja gan veselību, gan dvēseles mieru. Viņš nespēja piedot šo netaisnību, un tuviniekiem bija bieži jādzird šie stāsti. Statistika par upuriem ir nepilnīga, bet par skaitļiem es nedomāju. Es domāju par šo briesmīgo nelaimi, par cilvēku pašaizliedzību un drosmi. Domāju arī par tiem, kuri kaut vai ne no brīvas gribas, bet tomēr upurēja savas veselības un pat dzīvības, lai šo indi savāktu. Domāju arī par lielo netaisnību.

Tāpēc man vienmēr liekas, ka tas nenotika pavasarī. Jo manā zemapziņā tas palicis kā drūms, drūms laiks.