Saturday, February 7, 2009

HEFAT to Haydn

In the August 2008 issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine, there was a squib about Centurion Safety’s five day HEFAT (Hostile Environments and Emergency First Aid Training) course. Given weekly in the UK and monthly in the US, it made some sense to me. I manage to travel in areas where weapons are prevalent and occasionally, people have been taken hostage. Additionally, what First Aid training I had was in my college days - and we won’t talk about how far back that is. They’ve developed three or four various CPR techniques in the meantime. And a whole different way to deal with snake bites.

So investing time and money in this kind of training: not only the First Aid but becoming aware of potentially dangerous situations and, dealing with simulated scenarios devised by staff, all ex-Royal Marine commandos, seemed a good investment to me. Most of the students are media people and NGO workers and our January 2009 group of thirteen was no exception. Many were BBC people with an AP reporter thrown in for good measure, with the rest NGO representatives. One correspondent was a Sandhurst graduate with four years in the Grenadiers; another a Russian with dual Russian-UK passports.

The classes were held on a farm in Woodstock, Va, half an hour from Strasburg’s Ramada Inn where we were housed. The weather was wintry cold - snowy and icy at times. Classes alternated between indoors and outside. There is nothing like “hitting the deck” on wet slushy ground. And we did learn to immediately dive down upon hearing gunfire.

The five instructors dealt with different topics from First Aid to Map Reading to Weaponry to Personal Security to Disturbances and all the places in between. Teaching was both didactic and realistic . At times, I felt I wasn’t ding anything right but eventually got the hang of checking out wounds and getting bandages on tight enough. Two of the instructors made marvelous howling victims - they would have passed any audition at the Royal School of Dramatic Art.

The NG Adventure article said Centurion had been doing their US course for seven years; they certainly knew what they were doing. I came out of it not only with practical knowledge but convinced awareness was the key to survival; that I had to be proactive and take responsibility for my own safety, whether I traveled alone or in a group.

In fact, much of their material would have been useful in my prior life in Probation.

From there, I hitched a ride into Washington DC with one of my fellow students, who was soon to go into Gaza. Stayed at The Tabard Inn, where I had been with my husband some ten? fifteen? years before. It’s a charming forty room establishment located in two old townhouses with a somewhat upscale restaurant. I was on the third floor of a rabbit warren of rooms, a single with facilities down the hall.

I had booked a Gray line Spy tour for Saturday, a trip around town with a guide pointing out significant places in DC’s espionage history. Afterward I went to the Spy Museum, which had a rather glitzy presentation of the covert world from then to now, then being pre-Elizabethan times. I walked back to the Inn near DuPont Circle and then down to Kennedy Center where I had a ticket for André Previn conducting the National Symphony with Anna Sophie Mutter soloing. A Haydn, a Mozart, one of Previn’s own pieces and concluding with a Richard Strauss.

Previn is a contemporary and I remember him yeas back, bright eyed and busy tailed, as a wonderful jazz pianist. However, seeing him at the Kennedy, he seemed so very frail, hardly able to get on the podium and needing help to get off. Both the usher, also a bit long in the tooth, and I thought he could benefit from a yoga class.

As I arrived to the Kennedy early, I was able to sit in for over an hours worth of Broadway composers’ and performers’ presentations in the Kennedy’s Millennium Stage series'. Thus supper was a sad chicken salad sandwich from the food cart which I ate during the symphony’s intermission.

Spent Sunday checking out The White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Wall, and
Washington Monument, and the Mall. The Vietnam Wall was just as moving as I had been told - you couldn’t help but be teary eyed. Also added to that area since I was last here, was a large WW2 memorial which didn’t impress me particularly. A fair number of sightseers were around, particularly at he Wall.

I also walked up to the Crime and Punishment Museum which was quite extensive and well done. A entire wall was devoted to Patty Hearst, who I last remember housed in the San Mateo country jail during her trial in SF’s federal court. There was stuff from the old G- man and prohibition days to present day bits and pieces. Coming out, I had to escape the crowd lined up for a Chinatown parade as I went back to the Inn.

Monday and Tuesday were spent looking into visas - got my Syria visa and sent in material requesting an Iraqi visa. Monday, I had a leisurely lunch with an old friend, my husband’s former boss, who had just retired from the VA. Tuesday, I wandered out to Georgetown and explored around. I really like Washington though suspect I could not afford to live there.

Surprising sighting: Also staying at The Tabard Inn was the author, diplomat, and BBC presenter, Rory Stewart, who I had missed in Kabul but caught up with in Jordan. We chatted briefly; he was amazed/appalled at my March Iraqi venture though he himself was headed back there - he had been involved with the Coalitions efforts at governance. Charming and very bright guy!

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