Gradual return to normality at work, home, etc.

On June 9, I resumed my face-to-face teaching after three months. Our work venue has been tailored to ensure physical distancing, and we are obliged to wear a face shield. There are arrows directing where to enter and exit; each room has information on the number of people allowed inside and a bottle of gel to hand sanitise. I have four students in an area of 18 square metres that can accommodate 20 people. According to them, my face shield produced echoed sounds. Likewise, I could not hear well what they were saying.  With our great sense of humour, we did not notice the time passing by; after an hour and a half of the lesson, the flipchart was filled with nouns, verbs and adjectives.

Confinement and social distancing have resulted in financial hardship, work stress, and relationship difficulties. Many of us have now gone back to our pre-COVID routine; however, there are still millions of people negotiating the transition back to what it used to be the “normal”.  Should common areas at home remain as workspaces? How many days per week should employees telework? Should religious service continue in car parks? Are drive-in cinemas a new vogue?

In her article “Life And Work After Covid-19: The Problem With Forecasting A Brighter Future’,  Josie Cox stated: “Our longing for a pre-pandemic existence (look no further than social media) is hard evidence of the fact that we will most likely revert to old habits and behaviors, both good and bad, when lockdowns are lifted and social distancing called off. We like the comforts and freedom of choice. In the workplace and beyond, we tend to choose a path of least resistance because that’s just the way we’re wired”. – US English (https://www.forbes.com/sites/josiecox/2020/04/14/life-work-after-covid-19-coronavirus-forecast-accuracy-brighter-future/#6732fcb765b1 seen 16/06/20).

On June 18, my husband and I went to the cinema (movie theatres opened on June 17 in Luxembourg and June 22 in France), and “Just Mercy” enthralled us. It is a compelling true story about Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative and Walter McMillian (who was convicted and sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit).  We took off our masks only after we had sat down on our allocated seats. There were only eight of us in a room for 200 people. How long will it take for cinemas and theatres to attract crowds again?

Currently, in France and Luxembourg, workers who interact with customers and their colleagues are required to wear facial coverings. Unlike in China and some Asian countries where mask-wearing is a conscious act, this is not the case in cultures where it is associated with vulnerability and fear. Hence, I do not know when this “new normal” will disappear in Europe.

Even with government support programmes, many families and companies will simply not bounce back or recover overnight.  The scars of COVID-19 will always remind us of the fragility of our lives, employment and economy. On the other hand, it has made us more resilience and able to confront fear, uncertainty and impositions at home and work than ever before. It has awoken our admiration and gratefulness for the work of health care workers, home delivery people and Samaritans. It has made us think deeper about our relationships and environment.

As Europe opens its borders today (1 July 2020) and the summer holiday is getting underway, there are still controversies regarding the EU’s lists on who are allowed to enter and not. Brazil, the USA and Russia are not on the approved list; whereas Algeria, Australia and Canada are on it. The UK is neither, and China is subject to confirmation of reciprocity agreement. (Source: https://www.euronews.com/2020/06/29/revealed-draft-list-of-countries-that-will-be-allowed-to-enter-eu-when-borders-open? Seen 30/06/20).

As we go back to our pre-COVID work premises and lifestyle, let’s not be complacent. It is not yet totally safe. Therefore, we must remain alert and respect the remaining restrictions:

– Do not shake hands or greet people with kisses on the cheek.

– Respect social distancing staying at least one metre from others; otherwise, wear a     mask.

– Wash both hands often.

– Cough and sneeze into your arm and turn around/away from people.

– Use single-use tissues to wipe your mouth and face, and throw these away right away.

The good news is that we are born with immense capacity to adjust, readjust and survive. “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” — Leon C. Megginson (1921-2010), Professor Emeritus at Louisiana State University, USA).

Stay safe and cheerful.

Inequality in distance learning, virtual meeting and teleworking

A few weeks ago, one of my students emailed me: “I don’t have the intention to quit the course. I have been absent because of my very bad internet connection”.  She lives in Luxembourg, which is this year’s richest country in the world based on GPD per capita (https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/richest-countries-in-the-world: Luxembourg $119,719; Norway $86,362; Switzerland $83,832; Ireland $81,477; Iceland $78,181; Qatar $65,062; The United States of America $64,906; Denmark $63,434; Singapore $62,690; Australia $58,824). Those in developing nations, where there is a vast gap between the haves and have nots, experience even more inequality in distance education, virtual meeting and teleworking.

The abrupt shift to education online has created practical, technical, and emotional challenges; and the lack of reliable technology and internet access is only a tip of the iceberg. There are issues concerning teachers’ ability to carry out their tasks remotely, home environment that favour or disfavour learning, and help (or lack of it) that students get offline.

The data compiled by the Teacher Task Force, an international alliance coordinated by UNESCO, found that half of all students currently out of the classroom – or nearly 830 million learners globally — do not have access to a computer. As well, more than 40 per cent have no Internet access at home. (https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1062232)

I teach adults at their company premises, which haven’t resumed yet. Currently, I have only two classes online. My son has been at home since the end of March finishing his first-year tertiary studies virtually and will return to Warwick University (UK) in October.  My friends and acquaintances have told me that they will continue to have video conferences instead of face-to-face meetings until the end of 2020. Whatever and wherever the situation, there is a form of inequality.

Through distance teaching, I got to meet my students’ children who needed instant parental care, men who wanted information from their wives right away and barking dogs (one of them jumped into its owner’s lap while we were discussing dog-eating people). Online lessons involve synchronous teaching in real-time, providing students with experience close to traditional classroom instruction. Overall, there are pluses: 1) active participation, 2) individual-centred teaching/learning, 3) varied materials used; 4) safe and stress-free environment. As a teacher, however, I miss observing my students doing their writing exercises and role plays. On the other hand, I save about two hours of commuting, and this gives me more time to prepare to be a better moderator and guide in their learning.

After three lessons via Zoom, my students had a stocktake; all of them expressed a strong preference for face-to-face learning over a virtual class. Their main reasons relate to social interaction and the psychological role of non-verbal communication.  Considering that two of them use their phones while the other four their personal computers with widescreen monitors, there is an inequality issue.

Almost all organisations across the globe have brought their board, committee and staff meetings and conversations into homes using technology platform and video conference software. The most used for these purposes are Cloud Meeting, ClickMeeting, ezTalks Cloud Meeting, Facetime, Freeconferencecall GoToMeeting, GroupMe, Infinite Conferencing, JoinMe, Skype, Slack, TeamViewer, WatchItToo,  Webex, Zoho Meeting, and Zoom. These obviously save travel times, but the equipment can be expensive and requires compatibility. The quality of image and sound depends on the amount spent on technology, which is not the same for everyone.

After the pandemic, virtual teaching and meetings are here to stay. Can we erase inequality? How can we reduce this?

Meanwhile, if your concern is making the most of distance learning or meeting, check out the following articles to start with:

“7 tips for effective virtual learning” https://www.quizalize.com/blog/2020/03/10/7-tips-for-effective-virtual-learning/

“How To Run A Successful Virtual Meeting” by Ashira Prossack on https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashiraprossack1/2020/03/30/how-to-run-a-successful-virtual-meeting/

“How to Run Effective Virtual Meetings Communicating Well With Technology” by Mind Tools Content Team on https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/running-effective-virtual-meetings.htm (seen 11/05/20)

All the best.

Personality and coping mechanism

Before I get into the subject of my article, I would like to mention that today is a public holiday in more than 80 countries that observe International Worker’s Day or May Day. Here in France, May 1st is known as “Workers Day of International Unity and Solidarity.”

As a freelance English language teacher, my livelihood was destroyed by COVID 19 on March 13. None in my family and social circles have asked me how I have been coping financially. It is most likely because they are concern more about my health than non-existing wealth. As well, money is a pet peeve for many of us.

There have been tens of thousands of deaths around the world, and I do not have words to describe the sorrow of their families and friends. I can only contribute to the discussion about this pandemic’s economic and psychological impacts, as I have lived it.

According to the United Nations (UN), the four sectors that have experienced the most “drastic” effects of the disease are: retail and wholesale (482 million workers); manufacturing (463 million); business services and administration (157 million); and food and accommodation (144 million). I belong to the third group. The UN ILO chief stated these four sectors “add up to 37.5 per cent of global employment, and these are where the ‘sharp end’ of the impact of the pandemic is being felt now (https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1061322).

If you want a detailed analysis of this issue, you can visit https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/04/10/covid-19-economic-impact-human-solutions/ (COVID-19: Economic impact, human solutions By Edward Lempinen) and https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/risk/our-insights/covid-19-implications-for-business (COVID-19: Implications for business – Executive Briefing by McKinsey and Company).

Regardless of whether or not you have lost income during this period, we are all in the same boat when it comes to social distancing to avoid the spread of coronavirus.  Our personalities, predicaments and interests, which are different from one person to another, determine how we respond to social isolation. Logically, one would think that introverts come out better than extroverts in this situation because they enjoy being alone. Well, I belong to the latter, and I am doing all right.

Since the lockdown in March (the French government has announced that this will be lifted on May 17),  I have written a novel; improved the full draft of a non-fiction book; participated in 4 online chess tournaments; made about 300 pancakes; and baked a dozen apple and banana cakes. As well, I have Zoomed, Whatsapped and Skyped with friends and relatives in three continents; done lone aerobics while watching movies at least 20 times; and consumed two tubes of hand cream to appease my itchy and red hands due to over washing and sanitising. 

Prof Luke Smillie and Prof Nick Haslam, in their article  published in The Conversation on 9/04/20, have this to say:

  • Differences in extraversion-introversion emerge in early life are relatively stable over the lifespan. They influence how we respond to environments.
  •  In a recent study, extraverts and introverts were asked to spend a week engaging in higher levels of extravert-typical behaviour (being talkative, sociable, etc.). Extraverts enhanced their mood and feelings of authenticity. Conversely, introverts experienced no benefits and reported feeling tired and irritable.
  • Research shows people who are emotionally stable, self-reliant and autonomous, goal-oriented, friendly, patient and open tend to cope better in conditions of extreme isolation.
  • A counterpoint to the so-called loneliness epidemic is the study of “aloneliness”, the negative emotions many experience as a result of insufficient time spent alone. (Anthony Storr – “A return to the self, solitude can be as therapeutic as emotional support, and the capacity to be alone is as much a form of emotional maturity as the capacity to form close attachments”).

Irrespective of personality differences, we should be patient yet purposeful, self-reliant but banding together, and optimistic thinking globally while acting locally. (The big five personality traits are openness, agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism and conscientiousness).

Let us continue to respect scientists’, medical professionals’ and sane governments’ advice on ways to stay safe and healthy.

No kisses and handshakes, declaration needed

Last March 11 at 10 AM in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, I witnessed an irresponsible act, which at other times would have been normal or even impolite not to do so in France. On the bus for work, a middle-aged man showed his monthly ticket to the driver, leaned to the woman sitting on the front and gave her two kisses on the cheek. (In France, depending where you are, kisses can be two, three or four). That same day, I heard on the news that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then there have been measures to combat its spread, such as lockdown, quarantine, testing, self-isolation and social distancing.

A week before the mandatory social distancing, business premises where I worked had already “no handshake” signs. If handshake was discouraged, obviously “kisses” too. It’s so obvious that they didn’t think there would be a need for “no kisses” signs, but there should have been because, pre-coronavirus pandemic, kissing was a form of greeting in many European workplaces, particularly in France.   

We’ve all experienced the “accidental” handshakes, hugs or cheek kisses during these times of the coronavirus.  Politicians, such as the US President Donald Trump, were seen shaking hands with several people during their press conferences and hospital visits. Mr Trump was reported to have said, “People come up to me, they shake hands, they put their hand out. It’s sort of a natural reflex, and we’re all getting out of it. All of us have that problem.”  (https://www.euronews.com/2020/03/15/how-the-new-coronavirus-could-change-our-behaviour?). There’s no excuse for social irresponsibility.

You have heard a lot how this virus originated in Wuhan, China last December, its victims, preventive measures, challenges for governments and health practitioners, etc… We have been advised to sanitise as often as possible, especially after touching money bills, guard or hand rails or light switches or lift buttons or anything that is touched by others in public places; no wonder supermarket and pharmacy shelves are still devoid of these products. Even alcohol bottles aren’t easy to find. We’re discouraged from stockpiling, but I bought enough supply of vinegar to last us for a year.  There is ample advice online on how to make the most of our time at home, from having a fitness routine to reading a book. I have opted to write a novel, and I am halfway through it . In France, we’ve to carry a declaration when we go out; the on-the-spot fine is 200 euros per violation.

Due to social distancing, almost all public gatherings have been cancelled. Why are elections being held during this pandemic? Why haven’t these been postponed? The March 15 city mayoral election in France was odd and a bit entertaining. Citizens had to hand sanitise before and after voting, then volunteers disinfected every pen used; there was a television crew filming them. Australia and the USA also had elections last March.

At home, space distancing (recommended 1.5 M) wasn’t easy, so we’d imposed time distancing instead. We ate at different times; after a while, however, we decided to space out the chairs and have meals together.  This pandemic has changed our individual habits, cultural ways, travel decisions, holiday preferences, etc.

My students found elbow or/and foot bumping fun as a replacement for handshake. I wonder if they’ll continue to do this when we resume classes (I don’t know when!). The majority of language teachers for adults are freelancers, i.e. they get paid when they work. So, you can imagine what this pandemic has done to our livelihood and the financial burden it has caused us.

Even in this gloomy situation, let’s practise patience, creativity, compassion, altruism across space and time. Even with time and social distances, we can still reach out, help and support each other in coping with all sorts of difficulties. 

If you fancy contributing to coronavirus research without leaving your home, read the March 27, 2020 issue of The Conversation https://theconversation.com/citizen-science-how-you-can-contribute-to-coronavirus-research-without-leaving-the-house-134238.

If you have a special skill, give lessons free of charge, e.g., meditation, yoga, music, cooking, gymnastic, aerobics and sewing via Skype, WhatsApp or Facetime.

Call, text or email relatives and friends regularly to show that you care for them. According to Dr C Singer, “human beings are social animals and our biological, psychological, and social systems evolved to thrive in collaborative networks of people. Some studies suggest that the impact of isolation and loneliness on health and mortality are of the same order of magnitude as such risk factors as high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking”. If you want to know more, check his and his colleagues’ research findings regarding the health effects of social isolation and loneliness on https://www.aginglifecarejournal.org/health-effects-of-social-isolation-and-loneliness/.

Let’s stay safe, healthy, patient, considerate, optimistic and responsible. We’re all in the same boat!  Worldwide statistics on infections and deaths continue to rise. (COVID-19 death rate in countries with confirmed deaths and over 1,000 reported cases as of March 31, 2020 by country https://www.statista.com/statistics/1105914/coronavirus-death-rates-worldwide/)

Take care.

Free and agreeable public transport

All buses, trains and trams are free in Luxembourg starting today, 1 March 2020!   As far as I know, it is the only country in the world that has free public transport.  It has slightly over 600,000 inhabitants in an area of 2,586 square kilometres. However, about 200,000 people living in France, Belgium and Germany cross the borders every day to work there; and I am one of them.

While the Luxembourgish government saves on the collection of fares and the policing of valid tickets, I have extra euros in my pocket (I only have to pay up to the border as required by the French government). Hat’s off to those who contributed to such environmentally-friendly decision (less private vehicles on the road). Of course, there are nayers to free public transport, and their reasons include the possibility of degradation of the property and condition of travelling due to rowdy people who are unlikely to be in paid transportation.

During the daily commute by bus from France to Luxembourg and back, it is always the same scenario. Some passengers who get into the bus first, occupy two seats: one for their body and the other for their belongings (e.g., bags, coats, etc.). In the beginning, I thought it was fun observing people walking up and down the aisles trying to find friendly faces to ask for seats. These days, I find this annoying and believe that if passengers want to occupy two seats, they should pay for two tickets and put a note on an unoccupied one with something like “I’ve paid for this seat because I can’t be bothered by your smell, telephone conversations, or light/image from your online activity,” or simply “I don’t like being close with another human being”.  

This morning, I took a double-decker bus and decided to be on the second level.  I had my work and lunch bags and jacket on a vacant seat next to the one I was occupying. There were three stops before I got off, so there were several people going up and down eyeing for seats.  As usual, when new passengers came in, I transferred my belongings to my lap.  It was only 7:30 AM, so the bus was not crowded and there two seats per person for the majority of us.  As expected, I had to carry a load of computer, books and lunch bag on my lap for more than one hour. Why did I have that discomfort and inconvenience when the women in front, behind and to my right had their small shoulder bags neatly rested on the vacant seats.  Honestly, I was hoping no one would see the empty seat next to me.  Why did I take my things away, which was surely interpreted as an invitation to sit? I also prefer to have two seats, like other passengers; however, my sense of courtesy and empathy are ahead of it.

Meanwhile, one of my fellow female passengers has become a friend. After saying “merci” (thank you in French), she added that the others pretended she was invisible and was pleased when she saw me smiling, as she knew instantly that she did not have to “beg” for a seat. Last December, she came to our house with her 17-year-old son for tea, and we enjoyed eating the home-made “Bredele au beurre” Christmas biscuits they brought.

Two of DH News Vancouver’s (Canada) 25 Public Transit Etiquettes (https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/the-top-20-public-transit-etiquette-rules-you-should-know-and-follow) are: “8. One seat per person is common etiquette, especially during peak hours and when the seats inside the vehicle are almost completely occupied; 9. Seats are for your bottoms only: keep your dirty shoes away from the seats – do not rest your feet on a seat.” We should have these etiquettes written on all public transports.

Enforcing civility in cinemas

In December 2019, I went to the cinema in Luxembourg where movies/films are screened in original versions and subtitled in French and/or German.  There was still full lighting when I got in, so it was easy to find my allocated seat; but there was already someone on it. I showed politely my G8 ticket to a man in his 50s; to my surprise, he stared at me and said in English, “Is it really important” (it sounded as a cynical remark rather than a question). Yet, I responded politely — “it should be otherwise there would not be such a policy and the cinema attendant would not have asked me where I wanted to sit”.  The woman next to him held his hand and leaned her heard on his shoulder. I looked at the vacant seat next to him and suggested I could sit there if he removed his belongings (i. e. expensive-looking coat and hat).  He shook his head and commented “It’s idiot”. Luckily, it was “It’s” because I do not usually let unreasonable, insensitive statements go by unchallenged.

If they did not move, what would have happened? I like the idea of fairness, justice and respecting policies and regulations; so, I would have gone out and complained to the staff spoiling my and their cinema outing.  Is seat allocation in the cinema necessary? If yes, why is there no staff to enforce it? It is quite embarrassing to deal with “it’s my seat” situation. 

My personality favours seat allocation, however, I know that others are happy to sit where there is space.   As a movie enthusiast, I always go to the cinema during its first week of showing.   I enjoy choosing a seat that is in the middle of the room where I get most of the visual and audio features; as well, it ensures that my companion/s and I sit together. When there is no seat allocation, it is “First come, first serve”, which is alright when the cinema is only half full.

When there is no shortage of empty place, seat allocation becomes unnecessary. Thus, should there be a seat allocation only for sold out films? I am not sure about this because there are other intervening factors, such as time of the showing (e.g., 10 am session often attracts less people) and the length of time the film has been in the cinema.

The principle behind seat allocation is sound when there is someone who enforces it (as in theatres and concerts with ushers).  It does not work when people do not sit in their allocated seats and there is no one who ensures that this is respected. It becomes even more complicated when those who sit in the wrong seats refuse to move.

For me, going to the cinema is a leisure activity and watching a good movie (particularly those based on true stories) is a form of relaxation. Unfortunately, this was not the case last December.  What are the explanations to his behaviour and comments? Perhaps he always gets what he wants disrespecting other people (environment plays an important role in this: family/upbringing, education, etc). Maybe he is a manager and used to bossing people around and dislikes being told what to do. Though I was the one who asked him to change seat, I felt intimidated and uncomfortable. Consequently, it ruined my afternoon of lone cinema treat before the busy holiday period of cooking, tidying up, entertaining and visiting Christmas markets. Are you for or against seat allocation? Have you been asked to move or vacate a seat? Have you taken someone else’s seat by mistake or deliberately?

The year 2019 was neither worse nor better

There were joys and sorrows.  There was a global progress made in education and gender equality. Women in Iran were granted the right to go to live football matches for the first time in 40 years. Investment in healthcare technology grew, and in the first half of  2019 about $4.2 billion was invested in digital health and consumers can now choose from no fewer than 300,000 mobile healthcare applications (https://www.mckinsey.com/about-us/new-at-mckinsey-blog/top-innovation-trends-in-healthcare seen 01/01/20). More than 1.4 million school children around the world walked out of their classes, known as the first ‘Fridays for Future’ global strike’, which was inspired by Greta Thunberg’s solo protest in 2018, and put the environmental debate into another level.

The issues that worried most of us last year were: ill-health and inequality in treatment and care, wealth disparities and dismal poverty, terrorism, crime, economic and political upheavals, work-life imbalance in favour of the former, failings of governments, discrimination, harassment, immigration, un- and under-employment, anger and discontent manifested in demonstrations and strikes, extremism, and environmental unrest (My family and friends Down Under celebrated the New Year yesterday amid deadly wildfires in Australia).

On a personal level, I had opportunities to do random acts of kindness. I participated in a chess game as part of the December Telethon and joined the Cancer Foundation’s fun run/walk to raise money for the sick and infirm. My letter of complaint on delayed and damaged luggage got attention.

I wrote to the Luxembourg’s Ministry of Consumer Protection and the European Consumer Centres Network that led me to the Centre Européen des Consommateurs France. To cut the story short, the Mediateur de la Consommation Luxembourg contacted Luxair. However, since mediation is not legally binding, the Mediation Centre’s letter got nowhere. As I mentioned in my previous blog, my complaint had more to do with principle than compensation. Nevertheless, the one hundred or so euros would have been a token of the company’s apology and expression of customer care — an amount which is nada compared to its advertising budget to attract or/and keep customers.

Would other airlines have done the same thing, i.e. refused the claim for compensation as the law states that the delayed flight should be at least three hours and the luggage should be un-usuable; in my case, the former was less than this and the latter was missing for 14 hours only but overnight with a damage? Thus, the almost 150 euros incurred wasn’t covered in the legislation. Who was responsible for such unnecessary expense and stress? My regret is that I didn’t offer assistance to a young lady crying next to me while I was filling in the lost baggage form as I was preoccupied with my own worry and frustration.

Will our last year’s concerns be the same in 2020? What can we do as individuals to make our global village more liveable, more peaceful, more equitable, and fairer? As the late Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”  There’s no big or small action; we can give time, attention, money, smile, respect, understanding, tolerance, protection, material possessions, and kind words.

“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” – Albert Einstein

Last but not least, I’d like to share with you this short video sent to me by my Aussie friend, https://youtu.be/xZEj_a_Gdws, which is fitting not only during the new year but throughout our lives.

A lot has been said and to be said about dreams

In my last blog, I spoke about my last summer’s travel experience.  Things are moving, however, I’m afraid I’ve nothing substantial to report yet.

What have you been dreaming?

It was a cold and rainy Monday; right after I got out of my residence, I realised I was underdressed but couldn’t go back because I was running late for work and didn’t want to miss my bus. I thought of buying a jumper, then again, didn’t manage to find time to do it. Tuesday was also cold and raining; my bus was late by 40 minutes; moreover, I had to walk for nearly two kilometres because there was no tram due to technical problems. When Wednesday came, I needed a shopping therapy and my purchases included polenta. I still felt the soreness of my legs on Thursday. On Friday at 7 AM, I was woken up by my husband’s hug and a narration of his dream. I giggled as I, too, had just dreamt. In my dream, it was raining hard and I was in an open market covered with plastics and parasols looking at clothes. I passed by a food stand of Italian products where it was selling the same polenta I bought on Tuesday.  Next to the Italian food stall was a table of jumpers. While browsing, I felt a hand on my shoulder; when I turned around, it was my husband. Why did I dream about things that really happened?

A fortnight ago, my Irish friend told me that she dreamt about having difficulty breathing. The day after that, she received worrying news about her long-time colleague’s ill health.

Dreams can be happy, funny, scary or sad. Nightmares, which are frightening dreams that awake us from sleep sweating, moaning or crying, are rare (statistics put it at around 5% only).

The BBC correspondent Sean Coughlan has reported research findings by the University of Geneva in Switzerland and the University of Wisconsin in the US that bad dreams improved the effectiveness of the brain in reacting to frightening experiences when awake and that dreams could be used as a form of therapy for anxiety disorders. (https://www.bbc.com/news/education-50563835 seen 30/11/19). On the other hand, “once a dream became a very upsetting nightmare the benefits were lost and instead it was likely to mean disrupted sleep and a ‘negative impact’ that continued after waking”.

Some dream experts reckon that our health, food, experience, activities and biological processes during sleep influence what we dream.  

My dream wasn’t lucid because I wasn’t aware of the fact that I was dreaming until I was awoken by a hug. Research studies have linked lucid dreaming to high levels of brain activity and increased busyness in the frontal lobe, which is involved with language, memory, and self-awareness.

Dr Michael J. Breus, a clinical psychologist and member of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, has stated that based on research, a significant percentage of people who appear in dreams are known to the dreamer (e.g. one study found more than 48% of dream characters were recognisable by name to dreamers). He further said that there is a body of study indicating that our waking life, which is beset by joy, success, grief, fear, loss, and emotional or physical pain, are replayed in dreams. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/sleep-newzzz/201501/why-we-dream-what-we-dream#targetText=Theories ).

My Aussie friend, like many people, are fascinated by interpreting dreams.  She has given a seminar on dreams and is currently writing a book about it. I didn’t have time to contact her before writing this article, but I’m interested to know about her findings because examining the content of dreams is one way to answer the most basic yet fundamental question, i.e. why do we dream?

How often do you dream? What do you dream about? Do you have theories on why you dream? Do animals dream?

Murphy’s Law

In my last month’s blog, I mentioned a fun run/walk to raise money for our local cancer foundation. Well, it was a success with over 1,600 participants finishing with gusto under the rain.

My Greek holiday was almost perfect till I got to Luxembourg airport. The airline company concerned emailed me this message: “After having contacted our legal department, we would like to inform you that you do not have the right to mention one of our employees nor our departments nor our Airline in your blog.” I wanted to write about my experience to warn travellers of unforeseen misfortunes, alert them of their rights, and contribute to making our society fairer (not to tarnish this company’s reputation).

Can an experience or true statement be defamatory?

“If a statement is actually true, then it cannot be defamatory”, according to the EU-funded manual on defamation. Freedom of expression is an individual right which is connected to the individual’s freedom of conscience and opinion (Article 19 of the UDHR and the ICCPR, and Article 10 of the ECHR).“ The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has made this point repeatedly: Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of such [democratic] society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man. Subject to Article 10(2), it is applicable not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society”. (https://www.mediadefence.org/sites/default/files/resources/files/MLDI.IPI%20defamation%20manual.English.pdf.  Produced by Dr Richard Carver, Oxford Brookes University, for a series of defamation law workshops for lawyers and journalists in Europe under the auspices of the Media Legal Defence Initiative and the International Press Institute, and funded by the European Commission and Open Society Foundations.)

On 4 September 2019, our flight arrived in Luxembourg more than 30 minutes late and without my check-in suitcase. We were supposed to land at 10:00 PM and be at home at 11:00 PM; however, by the time we had finished registering online the claim for our lost luggage, it was almost midnight. Since the last bus for home, i.e. Thionville – France, was at 11 PM, I rushed to the train station; unfortunately, the train had already left. I proceeded to a nearby hotel thinking of staying there for the night, but the price prevented me from doing this. I was prepared to stay at the airport hoping that I would get my luggage the following early morning. However, I was told by the airport staff that I couldn’t as it would close in 10 minutes (i.e. at midnight). To cut the story short, I took the taxi home as it was cheaper than staying in a hotel (35-30 km – average evening rate 145-150 euros).

The next day at 1:00 PM, I got a call saying that they found my suitcase. To my surprise, it was just slid in a quarter-opened door with only the arms of the person visible to me. There was no explanation nor apology; not even a face to say “hello”. I felt like a non-human being. As well, the suitcase – which was a birthday present from my sister in Australia last April (only 4 months before this incident) – had been damaged.

I contacted the airline’s Claims and Customer Relations Department, and they responded promptly but with un-sensitivity and lack of customer care. According to them, my suitcase, though damaged, can still be used; the flight delay was less than the minimum hours required for compensation; and the luggage was returned less than 24 hours.

I do not have relatives and friends to bother at 1 PM to pick me up 30 km away. When I travel, I have a budget and bring just enough (including a pre-paid credit card) to avoid unnecessary spending. I was lucky to have 150 euros leftover that evening. Imagine if I didn’t? Hitchhike? Sleep outside the airport’s ground, on the bench somewhere, or …? Murphy’s Law – something could have gone wrong.

ActionAid’s survey on street harassment found that 75% of women in London, UK have been subjected to harassment or violence in public. A French study found that 100% of more than 600 women surveyed across the country had faced sexual harassment on the transit system. (http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/resources/statistics/statistics-academic-studies/). Though violent crime is rare in Luxembourg, it does exist. It doesn’t have to be a violent one to have a lasting devastating effects on individuals and their families. Murphy’s law – if something had gone wrong that evening, who would have been responsible?

I received a negative response from the airline company though the European Court of Justice (CJEU) has established the concept of ’damage’ as both material and non-material (e.g. emotional). (https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/ecc-net_air_passenger_rights_report_2015.pdf). Regulation (EC) 261/2004 applies in cases where a flight is cancelled or delayed and the Montreal Convention establishes that it is the airline’s responsibility when a consumer suffers economic loss or damage due to a flight delay or damaged luggage.

I’ll keep you posted…         

Marathon

I’m not a marathon runner but a great fun of it. The farthest I had run was 5 km for Refugee Week in Australia several decades ago. (I did a 10-km walk for our local Cancer Foundation two years ago and will participate in a similar one on October 10). Yet, I went an extra mile visiting Marathon, a quiet town 42 km from Athens in Greece, to see where it all started.

I took a public transport and was glad that the bus stop was only a few steps away from the museum where I enjoyed looking at photographs of amazing marathon winners in many cities of the world, like Boston, London, New York, Paris, Tokyo and, of course, Athens. I had goose pimples (goosebumps) staring at first female and oldest marathoners and the hurdles they overcame to participate. There were medals, trophies, shoes, descriptions of runners and their triumphs. It was Thursday morning and there were only my hubby, me and two Greek women in that historical place full of sporting memories.

Across the street were merchants selling clothes, household accessories and gadgets. The photo on this website is that of a seller sleeping who probably woke up at 4 AM to install his stand at a convenient spot. My thoughts are with him while writing this because I didn’t do what I should have done. Two young women got out of their car and, after a mite of looking at his merchandise, each one picked up pairs of socks to buy. They looked at the sleeping vendor then me and smiled. They were shy to wake him up, thus, after a while they put back the socks and left. For the whole time I was there (a total of two hours including the stay at the museum and waiting for bus back to Athens), he didn’t have any customer. I felt sorry for him but didn’t follow my instinct to wake him up. I’m sure he would not have been angry but thankful. If I knew to speak Greek, I would have told those women to wake him up. Would they have listened to me? I’m still sad thinking that he missed the opportunity to earn a bit of money to feed and shelter himself and those who are dependent on him.

Life is like a marathon for many men, women and children, particularly for the 734 million people in extreme poverty (roughly 1 in 10 people worldwide; based on World Bank definition of poverty – US $1.90/day or 1.74 euros/day).  It’s a long-distance race for survival that involves hard work and perseverance.

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, these are the historical facts about Marathon:

“Battle of Marathon, (September 490 BCE), in the Greco-Persian Wars, decisive battle fought on the Marathon plain of northeastern Attica in which the Athenians, in a single afternoon, repulsed the first Persian invasion of Greece. The Greeks could not hope to face the Persians’ cavalry contingent on the open plain, but before dawn one day the Greeks learned that the cavalry was temporarily absent from the Persian camp, whereupon Miltiades ordered a general attack upon the Persian infantry. In the ensuing battle, Miltiades led his contingent of 10,000 Athenians and 1,000 Plataeans to victory over the Persian force of 15,000 by reinforcing his battle line’s flanks and thus decoying the Persians’ best troops into pushing back his centre, where they were surrounded by the inward-wheeling Greek wings. By the time the routed Persians reached their ships, they had lost 6,400 men; the Greeks lost 192 men.”

The Greek legend says that an Athenian messenger/day-runner/courier Pheidippides (also spelled Phidippides or Philippides), was sent from Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 40-42 km, to announce the Persian defeat before dying of exhaustion. This tale of running from Marathon to Athens became the basis for the modern marathon race.

Whilst I was in Marathon, I also found out that there’s an annual Spartathlon in September reviving the footsteps of Pheidippides, as he was also sent to Sparta to request help to fight against the Persians in Marathon.  Sadly, I didn’t see the monument of this fit, determined, brave and patriotic man. Apparently, the statue of Pheidippides is in the port of Rafina, northeast of Athens. Though this may only be a legend, it conveys timeless and universal themes, such as dedication and perseverance, which inspire and motivate us today.