Interview by Dorine Steenbergen, De Gelderlander, maandag 24 december 2007
Translated in English by Nora Wakim.
A life straight out of a Garcia Marquez novel
Oona Giesen, Dutch yoga teacher in Greece should actually have been dead and buried. Nobody believed she would survive a serious car accident 1998. But life still had a lot in store for her, even great happiness: "Two men that I love with all my heart".
On the fourteenth of October 1998 Oona Giesen (1965) had given yoga-lessons in Aliki, a village on the Greek island of Paros, at a distance of three hours by boat south of Athens. A few years earlier she had left Holland after having lost her husband and job as well as having a miscarriage within ten days time. Her parents who had been going to Greece on holiday for years, have a summer-house in Aliki. The front door opening out onto the sea and with a dog for company I wanted to start a new life. To earn a living she gave yoga lessons, she was trained by her mother who is also yoga-teacher, and constructed websites for the local hotels and restaurants.
On that day after her lessons she will be leaving for the capital of Paros, Parikia, with a friend. She wants to buy a ticket for the boat to Athens. Her father, an artist, will be opening an exhibition later that month, organized by the Dutch Embassy.
The ticket will never be bought, but Oona will be in Athens that same day.
I was driving when the first rain of the season started falling. But it was only a drizzle and I did not start the windshield wipers. In a slippery bend the car started sliding and lurching. Braking was useless and I lost control over the car and as we went off the road I thought: "Well, so this is the end".
The car wreck with the two women inside is only discovered a few hours later by a bus-driver. Oona remembers how relieved she was on hearing that her friend's injuries were only superficial. She herself was taken by helicopter to the hospital in Athens.
The scan shows that her injuries are extensive and leave little room for hope: her back is broken, a crushed vertebra and injuries to internal organs. It is impossible to transport her to the Netherlands and operating is useless. This is the unanimous conclusion of the surgeons. When her parents arrive at the hospital, they are told: "Why don't you go and arrange the funeral". To make her more comfortable Oona is given morfine.
However it is clear that Oona is still fighting for her life and pressure is exerted on the surgeons to operate anyway, but they continue to refuse. The material necessary for her back has to come from the US and that will take too long is one of their arguments. Besides, her blood group "O-negative" is exceptional and it will be very hard to find donors.
Finally Georgos, a Greek friend breaks open the checkmate position by offering a fakelaki at exactly the right moment and with the necessary discretion and the right words. This envelope with money, unknown to Oona and her parents, is the ultimate solution in Greece to obtain what seems impossible: a plumber for your house, a permit from the local authorities, or a surgeon for an operation. Thanks to the fakelaki, a couple of thousand euro's gathered by friends and acquaintances, suddenly the doctors are prepared to operate. Other friends of Oona's literally walk through the streets to find donors.
"They operated on me for eight hours. Since then I have an iron cage instead of the crushed vertebra". A period of endless revalidation starts; flat on her back in bed and with unbearable pain Oona finds her refuge in yoga. "I had always used yoga in a physical way. At that time I learned about the spiritual form. By approaching the pain through my breathing and by accepting the pain, I discovered it became more bearable. Although it was still so terrible I sometimes thought I would go mad. But the dominant feeling was my happiness in still being alive. That was the only thing that mattered". For her there is another discovery, that she has an unexpected, enormous spiritual flexibility. Very strange, because actually she does not have an optimistic character. "I stopped worrying about how to earn enough to live on. Financially, but also socially, I used to really worry about the future. Really strange, but that accident seems to have been necessary to free me from my gloominess and pessimism".
The easy-going attitude is permanent. In spite of the news that she will never be able to become pregnant because of her injured internal organs. Even worse. She can expect to have aan early menopause. According to another prognosis, she may be partially paralysed as well.
Meanwhile she has been living a normal life for quite a while now. She did need some extra surgery, but still. For her doctors she is a living miracle; she herself thinks yoga is the reason for her recovery.... "Having practiced yoga all my life, I was in top condition at the time of the accident. But also afterwards yoga was my salvation..."
Back in Holland, where she has again been living for years, she starts again with yoga-lessons, carefully respecting the limits of her physical possibilities. In the summer she is always to be found on Paros, where she gives yoga-workshops to tourists. Because in spite of everything she is still passionately attached to Greece. To her own astonishment she has learned to live from day to day. The 'here and now' is important to her, tomorrow will take care of itself.
A little more than three years ago, with her newfound lack of inhibitions, more as a distraction rather than seriously, she visits several dating-sites on internet. She meets Peter, a handyman from Amersfoort, who has also known great grief in his life. When she does not have a period for more than six months, she supposes that her premature menopause has set in. It is hard for her to accept. She pauses in her narrative and then it is as if the sun breaks through in the room, in spite of it being cold and bleak outside, "He was my menopause", she says with a tender look at the little boy on her lap. "Suddenly there are two men in my life I love with all my heart".
Oona, 41 years old, gives birth on the 13th of September = November 2006 to Thomas, a few weeks premature and via a caesarean, but luckily a very healthy baby. From this moment on Oona's life story starts to show great similarities to a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In spite of adverse circumstances, the author always lets his characters fulfill their fate.
So, who knows, when Thomas is old enough, he may write down his miraculous entry into this world. He will tell how his life began that day in October 1998 when a car-accident completely changed his mother's life, so that from that day onward she decided to live for the moment. Although even without his story, Oona's life remains a miracle.