As I seem to remember it was St. Augustine who said something like… “The reward of patience is… patience”. After four days of delay and two cancelled flights I eventually arrived at my destination in Buenos Aires. Intermittent eruptions of a volcano in Southeastern Chile’s Puyehue Cordon Calle Chain,ongoing since June 4th, continue to create havoc for air travel to and within several neighboring countries. After a second cancellation the airline suggested a flight to Chile and then to try again with an approach from another direction .On the flight to Santiago a woman across the aisle inquired as to why I was traveling to Chile. I explained that this detour was necessary due to volcanic ash from Puyehue disrupting flights to Argentina. I was quite surprised when she reacted with annoyance to this rather straightforward information. She then informed me that this was not possible because “there are no volcanoes in Argentina”, and besides, she lived in Cordova, Argentina and had heard nothing whatsoever about volcanic ash disrupting air travel. Although she was carrying an IPad, my observation that she could readily check this information was waved away as she quickly returned to her novel. I saw her again, only in passing, at the Santiago airport as she was rushing around in distress since her flight to Cordova had been canceled, due to volcanic ash. While one can ignore reality, one cannot always ignore the consequences of ignoring reality. My flight to Buenos Aires took off on time and I arrived four days from my intended date and very glad to finally be “home”.
After a short rest I took off again for another flight back across the Andes to Mendoza. Fortunately, flights to and from the city were operating that day, although their air was heavily smogged with ashes coating the landscape and everything in it. Many residents and visitors were experiencing respiratory problems. This beautiful city situated at the foot of a great mountain chain is a favorite spot for tourism. Mendoza is also located in the largest wine producing area of Latin America and famed for its production of very fine olive oil. The organizers that requested a trauma seminar there hadn’t specified any particular theme. In such cases I just work with whatever comes up “in the field”. Over time I have learned that what comes up in the field often has something to do with the history of the specific place where seminars are held. The seminar in Mendoza was no exception.
Based on a criteria of easy access, and a large modern auditorium with good acoustics, my organizers arranged for the seminar to be held in a building which is now a school. On our first day I began with my usual introduction and overview of individual and social trauma, including the importance of the “history of place”. Soon thereafter, one participant revealed that this school had been a children’s hospital and that she had been a patient there. Others soon followed with their stories of being patient’s there and having lost siblings who died in that hospital. It also turned out that other participants had children who had died there. Child loss and medical trauma became the dominant focus of our two days there. While these are difficult issues I felt that the atmosphere was oppressive for some other reason. At the time, I attributed this feeling to that fact that the weather was unseasonably hot, windless and heavy with ash. On the third day this seminar was re-located to the headquarters of the local geological society. As we began, the group noticed that the atmosphere was decidedly lighter. Someone then informed us that the school where we were also serves as the county morgue. And, not so surprisingly, since we were now located at the geological society the massive disruptions of Puyehue arose as a topic.
By the time I arrived in Santiago de Chile, this time for a seminar, another volcano, Hudson was erupting. Volcanic eruptions in southern Chile don’t affect the air in the capital city because their wind patterns move in other directions. This also meant that my flight back to the USA could proceed without delay. Delay, however seemed to be a travel theme for this trip as I soon realized when arriving at a city that claims to host “America’s friendliest airport”. As I approached the security line a TSA agent politely requested that I present my palms. He then dusted both for traces of explosives. This test was positive. While calling for two female officers, he kindly explained that the culprit was probably hand sanitizer, body lotion or some kind of cosmetic or hair product. These two agents escorted me into a closed room and explained that they were going to search through all of my belongings and then perform a pat down. I explained that I was not willing to go through their whole body x-ray scanner due to concerns about radiation exposure. My concerns are not unfounded given that these potentially carcinogenic devices have been banned from European airports due to health and safety concerns for passengers and screening personnel. Declining the scanner, the agents said, made no difference. Even if I agreed to go through their x-ray scanner they would still perform their invasive pat down procedure. After dusting all of my belongings for explosives, the agents concluded that the likely culprit was indeed my hand sanitizer and 30 minutes later I was released. During this outrage, I was at least able to feign patience since that seemed to be my best option at the time.
No surprise that a recent Congressional report calls Transportation Security Administration a “bloated and ineffective bureaucracy” and to that I would add “unnecessarily invasive”. According to John Mica R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, “TSA has lost its way…Its time for reform”. Any such action could be a long time, if ever, coming from a legislature which, bowing to the food lobby, declared pizza to be a vegetable. Small wonder that the millions taking to our streets are running out of patience.