MICHAELA FENGSTAD

Writing about life as it happens, trends in career development and new inspiration

Tag: fear

First World Problems…

A few years after the 1989 fall of the communist regime, I was contacted by an American College and asked if I would be interested in teaching Romanian culture and language to groups of college students. Groups of 10 to 15 late teens and young adults were to spend three months in the area. It was a unique opportunity for a young  teacher that had read a lot about the world outside of the communist walls but had never come into direct contact with anybody from the western world. To be fair, I had tasted a couple of the western beverages – Teacher’s whiskey and Bacardi rum were my favourites and managed to acquire a few clothing items that I was quite proud of but that was all. It was a new perspective that  I was so eager to explore. What I thought would be a short 3 months, turned out to be a collaboration that would extend over the years up to the very last week of my leaving the country for good. It was a fun time but also a tremendous learning experience for me.

Part of their assignment in Romania was to help with orphanages and the newly created Street Kids program. The orphanage experience was horrendous. In their attempt to maintain a facade of a healthy, happy nation, the directions from the party leaders were clear: all newborns with any kind of disability or HIV were taken from their parents at birth and locked into this orphanages where they were barely kept alive in sub human conditions. Psychologically, emotionally, and physically abused, they were never taught anything and never knew human touch or caress. To say that I was shocked by what I saw  is underestimated. Enough to mention that those images still visit me in the odd nightmares. There were small children in straight jackets or tied to beds and chairs, and toddlers sitting in their own feces, banging their heads on the steel gates of their cribs. Scared, starving and sick. My students were heartbroken. Crying and trying to give hugs to terrified kids that thought we were there for more punishment was hard to watch.

The Street Kids program, provided some heart break as well, but on a different level. Orphans that eluded the system and found refuge in the underground sewage system or kids that ran away from abusive poor families and were living on the streets were a different kind of challenge. Trust was never in their vocabulary and all they knew was how to steal and rob to survive. The mission of the program was to teach them basic skills, hygiene and how to read and write. It was titanic work with a very low rate of success. We were all amateurs in dealing with these high risk kids but tried our best. The excitement and satisfaction I felt when these kids were accomplishing the simplest tasks have yet to be matched. And when the first kid asked if he could help us teach others, we all teared up with joy for a change!

copilstrazi

Conditions have slightly improved since then or this is what I read. I am posting the link to a story that I have been following since 2000. It is the story of Izidor Ruckel, one of the orphans that was adopted by an American family when he was 8. His challenges growing up, his inability to understand love and also why he was abandoned and his continuous struggle to have more and more orphans adopted as early as possible.

Tears? Compassion? Sadness? Yes, for people like him and issues like these I have time, I have lots of tears and tons of compassion. The rest to me is first world problems and I rarely have time, compassion or tears for them.

Photo: Andrei Pandele

If you want to get involved, check out similar programs: Projects Abroad or Global  Volunteers .

From Scared Mouse to Feared Rider…

Mark Twain once said that “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” We are all afraid of something: spiders, heights, speed, deep water, birds, darkness, public speech, failure, you name it… and we all handle our fears differently. Some of us better than others… but if not mastered, fear is a debilitating ailment that will take over your mind and cripple your body to the point where you cannot see the way out, even if you are standing right in front of it. On the flip side, once kept in check, it will allow you to experience amazing places, people and feelings but most importantly, will take you one step closer to enjoying life.

According to the scientists, everything starts with the part of the brain called Thalamus, in charge with receiving and sending the sensory data that our mouth, eyes, ears, and skin collect and ends with the Hypothalamus, the part of brain that either activates the “Oh shit I’m gonna die” response known as “flight”or the “OK, I will deal with it” aka “Fight” kind. My hypothalamus was once brave but in time, has slowly given up on me and most often than not it sends the “Oh shit I’m gonna die” signals.

The chrome and metal, the flames and all exquisite artwork on the motorbikes are meant to intimidate. Sure, if you talk to a rider, they will be quick to point out that this is just a small factor they considered the main being safety: the shinier the bike, the more visible. The first time I saw my silver Shadow, I fell in love. I fell in love with the classic look, with the extra comfortable Corbin seat, and with a vision.  With the vision that a conservative and princessy girl like me will potentially be able to control the silver beast. Wearing a cool motorcycle suit.

The sound of the double pipes, was another thing that sent shivers down my spine. No, they were not of pleasure but of fear. I remember looking up to my husband in utter panic, just to see his whole face inundated with glowing pleasure and pure ecstasy. I forced a smile and, as I did not have anything else, gave him a thumbs up while taking a couple of steps back. All I could hang on to was the vision of a very slender and younger looking me in a cool motorcycle suit.

The rest is history. I kept on freaking out and allowed the sounds and looks of the motorcycles to access the drawer where I keep all my biases and stereotypes. It seemed like I could never get over them or reclaim my confidence. I failed my first MSA test and it did not look like I would ever be able to ride. Shocking? Not quite as I could not see myself in any of the predetermined categories my mind was associating the motorcycle riders with.

Then I took my Shadow out. Going from a 250 cc to a 600 cc was a bit of a stretch at the time but I was able to ride it. After a bit of practice in a deserted parking lot I could even make eights, I could stop the right way, and I could shift. Then, we went out on the street. Sure I held the traffic back and 30 km/hr was all I could do but I rode a real bike on a real street. The next time we rode, I managed to take a corner in the 2nd gear and even leaned a bit. My heart was racing, but the disappointment that nobody on the street would stop and cheer on my accomplishment changed my mood from excitement to anger. My husband’s voice in the intercom brought me back to planet earth and I joined his excitement. It was a great day. I was ready for another shot at the MSA.

Going back to a 250 cc motorcycle boosted my confidence and took away the fear of power. I was now able to listen to instructions and follow them without worrying about how powerful and loud the engine was. I was now listening and feeling the engine, I was having a dialogue with my bike and I hoped I would win it. My shock came during the lunch break when the instructor looked at me and said: “you are doing a fantastic job!” I looked back at him, looked around and back at him. Yes, he was talking to me. I mumbled a feeble Thank you and parked my bike. At that moment I knew I was winning. Actually, I did win: I passed my MSA test.

My next challenge was the traffic qualifier. A combination of shifting up and down 1st to 3rd gear, emergency braking at higher speed (30 km/hr) with a slow controlled riding on a tight S-like portion. I knew the course. I tried it before and after 3 unsuccessful attempts I gave up thinking I will first have to make a pact with the devil and then try again. Well, this time, as the devil was busy with some other business, I had to try it again, by myself. And I did it! And I did it so well! All I had to do was to concentrate, apply all the things I learned and … enjoy! My excitement was so big at the end, that I almost dropped the bike in an attempt to jump off it into my husband’s arms! 🙂

Have I magically lost all my fears of riding? Definitely not! But I learned once again that fear in itself is illogical and thrives when you stay within a well-beaten path in your comfort zone. I also learned that being adventurous does not mean being stupid but rather being open to learning new skills with safety always on your mind.  I would often recite this out loud with that superior smugness whenever I felt it was fit, but I never really understood it. Riding a bicycle was as far as my adventurous spirit would stretch.

Now, I stand a bit taller, a lot more confident and I enjoy every moment a pedestrian stops to watch me  riding by in my pink jacket and on my silver beauty. I am now looking forward to the times I will be skilled enough to ride with our friends, enjoy the thrills of a twisty road and bask in the warmth of the many friendships we have made.

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