Friday, May 20, 2016

"Things which seame incredible" – early Jamestown diary entry on cannibalism

Jamestown Settlement

“Jamestown Settlement?  No, I can’t say that I’ve been there,” said our Air B&B hostess in Kilmarnock, Virginia, an hour’s drive from Jamestown Settlement.  Kilmarnock, VA is a quaint river town where I’d been pitched by fate.  A year ago while searching for my roots in Scotland, I found a ship’s passenger manifest that showed my ancestor, John Jamison, had emigrated from a different Kilmarnock in Ayrshire, Scotland and landed close to Kilmarnock, Virginia. I was here in the American version of Kilmarnock with Glen, my husband, following scant trace of my ancestor, John Jamison’s new life in Virginia.    

Kilmarnock, Scotland 

I was not too surprised that our B&B hostess had never visited Jamestown Settlement.  The site of Jamestown Settlement is close to Williamsburg and Yorktown but comes a far third in visitors.  Most Americans hear the Jamestown history in grade school, but that history is full of failures.  People prefer success stories.  Jamestown -- Pocahontas notwithstanding -- was far from a success story.  There is easier history and sweeter stories to be had nearby.  When time is short, travelers skip Jamestown, opting for Yorktown Battlefield and the glories of the American Revolution.  When time is really short, travelers head straight to Colonial Williamsburg – a Disney type reenactment of Colonial life.

Kilmarnock, Virginia

And so it was that Glen and I found ourselves among sparse visitors at Jamestown Settlement. Even though our excellent National Park guide enlivened her tours with quirky factoids, I could see why families with children might be drawn to Colonial Williamsburg.  What remained of Jamestown Settlement wasn’t much to look at - an obelisk monument, a statue of Capt. John Smith, an idealized statue of Pocahontas, recent foundations over the reburied real ones ( to keep the real ones from dissolving), and active archaeology digs.   The only existing ruins is a 1640s church tower that contains a dozen wooden benches.  
Present Day Jamestown Settlement 

Idealized Pocahantas
As the story unfolded, Glen and I found that in fact, Jamestown Settlement is something of a gem as well as the starting place of my own personal American family history.  Though lacking in Disney type props, Jamestown Settlement contains an uncomfortable but compelling story.    

It Was A Guy’s Trip   

Three shiploads of men settled Jamestown on land the Native Americans found too salty and swampy to occupy.  It took another 13 years for shipments of young unmarried or widowed women to arrive.
Too Much Testosterone, Not Enough Food or Water
The men who landed at Jamestown were soldiers or tradesmen who were told they would lead a life of ease in the ‘New World’.  They would be kept provisioned by London, fed by friendly natives and find vast stores of easily mined gold. Of the original 108 voyagers who landed at Jamestown in May of 1607, just 38 were alive by New Year's.  In the following year more ships arrived with 500 fresh settlers, but two years later, only 100 remained.  The rest died of typhoid, salt poisoning from their drinking water and starvation. 
Cpt John Smith 

They Ate Each Other
Painting of Real Pocahantas While In England
The early settlers were initially fed by friendly natives.  But clashes between the natives and settlers resulted in bloodshed.  At one point the settlers were unable to leave their small fort or risk attack by the natives.  They survived off fish until winter set it.  With nothing to eat and no food stored, many at Jamestown resorted to cannibalism to survive.  This was recorded in many diaries and journals of the first settlers, and new archaeology finds confirm the physical signs of cannibalism. Bones on display at the excellent museum  show marks of bones dismembered for consumption. 

The Jamestown Settlement Museum shows diary entries from settlers that were written aboard ship – before they landed in Jamestown.  Those diary entries reflect a deep fear of being eaten by the natives.  It is no small irony that it was the ‘civilized’ settlers who ultimately resorted to cannibalism. 
Evidence of Jamestown cannibalism
 The London based Virginia Company learned their lesson in selection of settlers.  Gentry, soldiers and storekeepers were not a wise choice to establish a solid base in America. My ancestor from Kilmarnock, Scotland was one of the thousands of farmers brought to America on free passage for their ability to make a living out of the soil. 
John Jamison had been on a ship of farmers who left the potato blight and starving population in Kilmarnock, Scotland and named their new village in America after the one they left in Scotland.  I could find nothing of how long or where John Jamison lived and worked in Virginia.  The only written records I could find were census records which show that John Jamison could read and write, married and had children. 
As I learned about the rough conditions and hard living of early settlers, a deep pride crept up on me.  I come from strong stock.  John Jamison was not landed gentry, but knew the value of hard work and how to make a living.   He was a penniless emigrant who survived disease, hardship, and raised a family.   I want to think of him and his hardships when I am inconvenienced or things get challenging.  I hope to one day similarly inspire those who follow.  Thank you John Jamison for those strong genes. 

Archaeology Dig At Present Jamestown 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Wading In My Gene Pool

Edinburgh Festival

“Aye, that’s a tricky period for finding your Ancestors.”  A nice way of saying that the hours of online research to find John Jamieson, my Scottish ancestor, were for nothing.  Birth records in Edinburgh showed I had the wrong guy.  I still needed to find MY John Jamieson, that unluckiest of forebears whose family had been evicted from their ‘croft’ during Highland upheavals then emigrated with over 500,000 Scottish countrymen during the Great Potato Famine of the mid-1800s.  In predictable bad timing he then was conscripted into the American Civil War where he died in 1862.  All that remains are well scripted personal letters to his wife, children and some DNA to which I have a small claim. 
Center for Researching Scottish Emigrants in Edinburgh
The clerk at the Archived Records in Edinburgh was sympathetic; ‘This happens every day.  People come over to Scotland wanting to find their ancestors, but that period of time was very difficult.  In the 1840s and 1850s great numbers of Scots died of starvation.  The government, landlords and churches helped pay their ship passage because there was no help available here.  Record keeping was shoddy to nonexistent.  They were happy to see them go.’
The Highlands Where Crofters Were Evicted
and Felt the Worst of the Famine in mid-1800s
It gave me new compassion for the mettle of my Scottish forbears, and stronger desire to solve this ancestral puzzle.  The clerk gave me sound advice for more tracing at the American end of things.  I was initially disappointed, but just like those Scottish ballads blending sorrow with extreme optimism, I think things worked out for the best.  Instead of looking up my Scottish ‘rellies’ (their diminutive for relatives) Glen and I got to explore the Scottish Highlands and get a feel for the land and people.   
Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness

Endless Stunning Scenery

Scotland is achingly beautiful.  But that would have been cold comfort during the hardships of the 19th century.  Especially in the Highlands; it was cold and damp in August – I would never want to be there in the winter.   I know cold weather.  But the Scottish chill hits you on an entirely different level.  The damp seeps into your bones and stays there, leaving you yearning for a cup of hot tea before the fire and layering as many clothes as possible.  It warms up on the rare sunny, summer day but weather in Scotland is cool and overcast with intermittent rain more often than not.  

Crofter House From Mid-1800s
Cold and Damp Even in Summer
Potato Blight That Struck Ireland and Scotland
Caused Famine and Massive Emigration in mid-1800s

Highland Clan Museums are the pride of larger villages and give a real feel for the difficult life my ancestors had in the 1800s Highlands. Life expectancy was low — living into your 50s was an achievement.  Many children died from the hardships so women bore many hoping a few survived.  Large, extended families lived in single-room houses.   Hygiene was bad - when their kilts got too filthy they killed the fleas by soaking them in urine. Coats didn’t exist.  Men were tough and women wrapped thin woven fabric around their bodies like a shawl.  Life was unimaginably hard. 

On our last day in Scotland,  Glen and I walked back from dinner through the light rain and reflected on our trip.  Our time in Scotland had been wonderful.  But now I was wistful to return home to our sunny mountain cabin, family and friends.  Then I realized that my ancestors - whose genes intertwined to produce mine – felt that same longing for Scotland as they made families and communities in their adopted land. 
Animals Love Glen (We all do!)
At Our B&B on Loch Ness

Another Cool, Misty Summer Morning

I honor the struggles and hopes of John Jamieson, my forebear.  It may take awhile, but my ‘rellies’ in Scotland will someday have a visit from their American cousin.  Who knows, they may be tall, have red hair and spend much of their time online searching for their lost American relatives.  

This Highland Horse Followed Glen Around  

On the Harry Potter Tour in Edinburgh
J.K. Rowling Still Lives There

Animal Friendly Everywhere
Especially Corgis, Labs and Goldens

Sunday, August 23, 2015

After The Aftermath

It Takes Two Days of Travel To Saipan 
‘Do you think they know a typhoon is coming?’, I wondered out loud.  A group of Chinese tourists were heading out to the beach in their swimsuits carrying fins and snorkels.  Glen and I were soaked from the pelting rain - hauling cases of communications gear through the open air lobby of a hotel in Saipan. This was the spot where we Red Cross volunteers from the states were gathered to weather the coming storm.  The place that agreed to take us  in was packed with tourists from China who arrived in Saipan ready to do the full tilt vacation experience.   From the looks of things these were very hardy tourists.  There is not an umbrella made that could withstand the winds that were gathering strength yet a dozen or so tourists were heading to the beach to…… do what?  The wind had whipped up the waves to such a frenzy that no fish worthy of the name would be at snorkeling depth.  Nemo was surely off visiting cousins deep down in the ocean.  Sand was flying, the lounge chairs had already been stacked and chained down, and the bits of thatched roof on beach ramadas were  airborne.  
The Typhoon That Brought Us To Saipan - Soudelor

“If they start doing Tai Chi I may join them,” I told Glen.  Things had been hectic and I could do with a little calm right now.  The past few days Glen and I had our heads in our work; installing communications for the Red Cross disaster response in Saipan after Super Typhoon Soudelor devastated the island.  We heard bits and pieces from islanders and colleagues about the remote possibility of a new typhoon heading our way.   But we have been in many disasters during our 10 years as Red Cross volunteers and could not imagine the odds of two typhoons hitting the same island so close to one another.  That would be some serious bad luck. 
Aftermath From Super Typhoon Soudelor

 So it was with amazement that we needed to stop disaster response for Super Typhoon Soudelor, gather our emergency satellite communications gear and prepare for another one.  This new tropical storm was named 'Goni' and slated to veer a bit and not pack anywhere near the punch of Typhoon Soudelor.  But the houses and buildings that were already missing a roof or open to the weather were not going to provide much protection for the islanders.  Many were heading to shelters in disbelief.  

Winds and Seas Building For Second Storm
Locals Head to Shelters
Red Cross Relief Workers Prepare For Round Two

By definition, Red Cross disaster workers are a resilient bunch.  And if you have to be in a big storm, they are about as capable a group as you could wish for.  These people are so accustomed to helping out and taking charge in disasters that they were in the lobby doing what comes naturally in the Red Cross; one volunteer trying to make himself understood to Chinese tourists practicing their English that it might be a good idea to fill their bathtub with water in case the water supply is disrupted.  Try to communicate that to a non-English speaker.   Meanwhile a Red Cross Health volunteer is advising a young couple to take shelter in the bathroom if the windows break.   The young couple seemed to understand and translate for the rest.   

Meanwhile, the Asian tourists are making the most of the situation taking pictures of each other with their arms around the Red Cross volunteers while pointing to the American Red Cross logo on our shirts.  It was about as close to celebrity status as a disaster volunteer will ever come.  Come to think of it, these Chinese tourists had it right. Vacation experiences don't come more authentic than this.   

Troubleshooting A Problem 
Ron Beckley and Glen Setting Up Equipment
Before News of Second Storm 

 NOTE:  Tropical storm Goni did not develop into a typhoon and winds stayed around 60 mph.  Not surprisingly the tourists in the hotel did not skip a beat and were out body surfing the next day in the high waves created by the storm.   The Red Cross workers went back to Round Two of disaster relief.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Going With The Flow After Nepal

I awaken to the smell of coffee and weigh the merits of climbing out of my sleeping bag before the sun is fully up.  As I lay still I hear a peregrine falcon screech echoing down the canyon.   I glance over at Glen and ask, “Did you hear that?”  As dawn creeps down the side of the red canyon walls I sit up and shake the night's sand from my hair.  Glen and I reeled at the thought of one more week in a tent.  But this time it is for love of the great outdoors and Glen's kids instead of avoiding a building collapse in earthquake country.   
Morning Sun Creeps Up the Canyon Walls
Setting Up Camp 
Glen and I just returned from a month of Red Cross disaster volunteer work in Nepal.  We arrived in Nepal days after the first 7.8 earthquake that killed over 8,000 people, and were still there during the next, slightly smaller 7.4 earthquake.  Daily aftershocks, strong tremors and the occasional landslide or building collapse kept us frayed and edgy; sleeping in tents ensured a wake-up and gave peace of mind.  But here we were, back safely, but sleeping in a tent.  Back from Nepal with only 4 days to prepare for this trip of a lifetime; a rafting trip on the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon. 
Sleeping in a tent was the only thing this raft trip had in common with disaster response work.  But it was surreal to come from the destroyed villages and dehydrated food of Nepal to this serene, luxury camping under towering red canyon walls.   Under the circumstances, OARS, our raft company, might have rescheduled us, but this was ‘snow melt’ period – when the rapids raged with the flush of melting mountain snowpack.  The best time for rafting.  Months earlier, before the Nepal earthquake, we invited Glen’s kids and a grandson and they were counting on this vacation.  So here we were, the stress of Nepal fading as we blended and socialized with the group of 14 other adventure travelers seeking the thrill of famous Cataract Canyon rapids at high water. 

Our five massively laden oar rafts and dories are hauling massive amounts of gear and food; much of which has to be unloaded at a new camp each night and reloaded each morning.  Getting downriver is like moving your daughter out of her dorm room twice a day for five days . . .  with the help of 19 new friends.  It was just what we needed. Despite being bone tired from our month of hard living in Nepal, gliding through canyon geology like this and careening through Class IV rapids is a better way to decompress than just about anything I can think of.

Groover Feng Shui 
 “Why do they call the toilet a groover?” asks Brandon, Glen’s grandson.  Good question.  A guide told us the term ‘groover’ came from the days before they included the seat; you sat directly on the hard rims of a Vietnam era 60 caliber ammo can, which left two deep grooves in your -- well, you get the picture.  And nothing is more important to camp morale than ‘groover feng shui’ or the placement of the two portable toilets in  sparse natural seclusion.  But pretty soon all 25 us (20 rafters and five guides) are enjoying the spectacular views from the ‘groover’ – totally at home on the toilet as rafts and dories pass by on the river.  . 

Looks Like Gaping Jaws 
The first two days are mellow with mostly flat water. Days three and four are full of excitement.  Life jacket as tight as I can stand, helmet; it's a glorious, sunny day on the Colorado River and I feel like I'm suited up for combat.  I swelter in the heat and get goosebumps from the snow melt river water at the same time. After two days of anticipation, the group’s mood soars as we get nearer the rapids, some of North America’s biggest.  We are all pumped.  The melting snow has created perfect conditions; exciting but not death defying.  Our rafts get lively at the  rapids and we get soaked as the water comes crashing down on us.  Our guides thread the thrashing rapids, pulling hard to avoid the swirls and eddies between the boulders and falls.  Then we pull over and as we talk through our excitement, the guides proceed to assemble a gourmet lunch on the riverbank.  As a fellow rafter put it; it’s as if our airline pilot just walked back to serve us a meal.  Our life is in their hands and then they wait on us hand and foot.
Other Rafter In Action 
Our last day is all about our pickup rendezvous at the Lake Powell ramp.  We grab our gear with a last bucket brigade and head up to an airstrip where small planes take our group high above the canyon tracing our rafting route from a different vantage point. It was the perfect way to end the trip. As I looked down from the small plane to the Colorado River below I saw another group of rafters traversing rapids that had been exciting and scary up close.  Now, like the rapids on the river below us, my hard times in Nepal were far behind me.  

Saturday, May 16, 2015

On Shaky Ground In Nepal -

I was stumbling around in the middle of the night trying to make it to the squat toilet.  Taking short, quick steps I was in a hurry, aiming my headlamp at the ground to avoid tent stakes and electrical cords.  In the distance I saw something white and red floating nearby and gasped as I saw her in my headlamp.  I remembered this blind, albino girl wearing red from earlier today – pressing and feeling and curious about this new person and equipment in camp.  She was one of a dozen or more orphans with major disabilities who had been abandoned by their caretakers for who knows how long. 

Searching For a High Place To Install the VSAT
Any New Activity Is  A Magnet For the Orphans
A few days before, a Spanish Red Cross disaster response team ‘discovered’  this situation; a building of blind, disabled and handicapped young Nepali children who had been abandoned by their caretakers.  The Red Cross team set up a camp behind the building, cleaning the filth and floors where the children had relieved themselves instead of the overflowing outdoor squat toilet.  Until the Red Cross came across these children, they were left to fend for themselves, wandering around the building, eating handouts of rice from villagers.  
I was there to install communications and internet for the  Spanish Red Cross mass sanitation team using  one of our American Red Cross VSATs.  

The Spanish Red Cross Camp Behind the Orphanage
Bringing  Humanity, Energy and Compassion   

When we arrived with our cases of equipment we were immediately surrounded by small, outstretched hands of the blind children wanting to understand through touch and feel. 
When Elisandro Alvarez, my Spanish Red Cross counterpart, explained the situation, it was obvious this was no ordinary satellite terminal installation.  These children were curious and many were blind.  The equipment had to be placed far from the reach and access of very mobile and curious children.  The Spanish Red Cross now came to my rescue as well; strong, energetic team members emptied a tall, heavy, wooden packing box creating a five foot tall base for our VSAT.  Far from the prying hands of children.  Perfect! 

The Spanish Red Cross Making Things Happen
 The amount of hard, dirty, hazardous work of the Spanish Red Cross astounded me during my time there. The filth they cleaned must have been overpowering – the stench was still there - worked deep into the concrete floors.  The Red Cross rescued those children in addition to their normal duties providing clean water and mass sanitation for villages in the region. 

Our 'Special' 'Childproof'' VSAT Installation 

Elisardo Alvarez making friends with his internet provider! 
I was humbled by the extreme humanity and compassion I saw extended by the team I was there to support.  Now that the Red Cross team had internet they could coordinate with UNICEF for a long term solution to these unfortunate children.  The difference these people made to the lives of these orphans can never be calculated.  But they are making a difference in Nepal. 

Julie Bradley, American Red Cross IT/Telecom ERU volunteer in Nepal.      

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Blown Away In Nepal

Talking About Our VSAT Internet/Wifi coverage w Canadian Docs
Crumbled Hospital In Dhunche  - Replaced By Canadian Red Cross Field Unit

My little yellow tent sailed off the cliff where I had slept the night before.  I couldn’t stake it down because of the rockface, so left my duffle inside as anchor against the strong winds whipping up from the steep Himalayan valley.  It was all replaceable; clothes, dehydrated food and sleeping gear.  All the important stuff was right next to me in my backpack; satphone, radio, toilet paper….

Helo Bringing Medical Supplies
Ewan Coldicott and I were out in the field as part of a joint American/New Zealand Red Cross IT/Telecoms  Emergency Response Unit (ERU).  When I heard about my tent I looked down the mountain and kept on about our business.   With all the serious disaster surrounding us the loss of my tent seemed pretty mild.  To get to this remote mountainous area of Nepal we had driven at walking pace up a narrow, dusty road with steep drop offs, stopping only for a landslide which partially blocked the road and to check on our sensitive equipment strapped to the roof of our car.   Our destination was Dhunche, a remote village high in the northern mountains where we were going to support a 35 person Canadian Red Cross medical unit perched on a narrow strip of rare, flat land.   This Red Cross unit was the only medical facility in the region and needed contact with the outside world to do their job. 

Along the way we passed destroyed villages waving strings of colorful Buddhist prayer flags.  Their baked brick homes built on a ridge line had literally crumbled during the earthquake.  Survivors had salvaged and gathered what they could and were sleeping outdoors or under raised blue tarps with the Red Cross symbol. 
Ewan - NZ Red Cross Team Member

Finding a clear line of sight to the satellite among the steep mountains was a challenge.  We finally locked on and got the row of green lights - success.  At this point the lack of useable living space turned into an advantage for us.  As we hammered nails and strung our cables we realized it was all so compact we could cover the hospital as well as the Red Cross medical personnel sleeping quarters with one large wifi antenna.  As Ewan  explained the system to the Red Cross team a villager ran up the mountain path carrying my tent and duffle over his head.  “Auntie, auntie, your tent!”  Now we were all smiling; the Red Cross hospital workers had internet and communication with the outside world and I had my tent back. 

All the best from Glen and Julie Bradley,  American Red Cross IT/Telecoms disaster volunteers

After The Shock In Nepal

VSAT Installation at Choutara - Norwegian Red Cross Hospital
When the dogs wake you up at night with frantic barking it might be time to put on your shoes and get ready to run.   So far, dogs have been reliable indicators of aftershocks ranging from mild to let’s exit the building.  Right now we are sleeping in tents in the field next to Search and Rescue dogs and they have been a reliable ‘canine early warning’ of coming aftershocks;   truly ‘man’s best friend’. 
Stringing Cable

The past few days our job in the American Red Cross IT/Telecoms ERU has been to support field units in the hardest hit areas of Nepal.   Tom McNally, a New Zealand Red Cross team member and I just returned to Disaster Operations in Kathmandu after installing communications, internet and wifi to support a rapidly expanding International Red Cross Operation. 
Team Member Tom McNally - NZ Red Cross  

Delayed enroute by a landslide,   Tom and I walked from the vehicle to the landslide blocking the road, gathering with the villagers to watch the slow but effective clearing of our path.  In some areas whole villages crumbled and the community is still in shock.  But in the rest of Nepal people are moving on with whatever they can do to help with the disaster relief efforts. 
This Entire Hospital Was Erected in 2 Days - Astounding

Landslide We Encountered On The Way To Choutara - Cleared Fast By Villagers
Tom and I drove through crumbled villages on the way to our field units and arrived on site at the same time as the Red Cross hospital and sanitation teams we are supporting.   It was an eerie scene as we worked well into the night; dozens of Red Cross working by headlight.  Literally overnight a 60 bed hospital camp was well underway and the next day by afternoon they were accepting casualties and patients.  As the scene unfolded around us Tom and I worked to get our equipment up and running; satellite communications, wifi and internet based phone service which was desperately needed for the 60-100 Red Cross workers to communicate and coordinate with the outside world.  A Norwegian Search and Rescue team gifted us some equipment as they departed so we even had a Red Cross laser printer and admin supplies – trivial in civilization but major luxury for these field teams.

The units we supported were smiling and appreciative of our efforts, but they are the superheroes in this story.  We move on to the next site, providing communications, and move on again to the next site.  They stay, living in indescribable hardship, giving help and hope to destroyed communities.