Mirjam, MCS Adventuressa
one brave woman’s global search for clean air
Many of us with severe respiratory and neurological symptoms from exposure to outdoor pollutants choose to shelter ourselves in a safe room and rarely come out, sacrificing quality of life for comfort and safety. Others negotiate a constant tradeoff between life experiences and health, enjoying a very limited palette of each. Then there are those rare few that won’t accept a sequestered life, nor a negotiated one, and instead forge new roads for all to follow in their wake.
Planet Thrive member Mirjamcs is one such pioneer. The daughter of a chain-smoking artist and painter, Mirjam was born in Amsterdam and developed chemical sensitivities at an early age due, in part, from constant exposure to smoke and solvents as a young child. In 1986 she was exposed to a floor paint now banned for indoor use and her life has never been the same. When exposed to certain chemicals and air pollution, she experiences a wide range of symptoms, from debilitating fatigue to severe musculo-skeletal pains and skin burning. She now requires a mobile air purifier with respirator helmet to function well both indoors and outside, but she has not let that stop her from seeking an inspired life that most healthy people would aspire to.
For the past four years, Mirjam has spent time in Canada, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, and Brazil to evaluate the local conditions for eventual emigration. Her criteria include:
• a coastal area where nature is preserved
• a warm climate
• winds blowing from the direction of the sea
• where outdoor sleeping is possible
• away from roads, sea and aircraft traffic and other pollution
• in a country where she can keep her pension after emigration
So far she has not found her dream spot, but read on to find out her latest planned adventure—maybe you’ll want to join her?
IN THE BEGINNING
Mirjam’s journey began in 2004 on Vancouver Island, Canada where she lived for three months on the southern coast with an MCS companion who traveled with her. She loved the wild, mountainous surroundings, and found the locals to be kind and helpful.
While there, she became interested in the idea of joining an eco-village. She met an older farming couple at one who had immigrated from Germany. The husband had become ill through years of working as a carpenter. He told her that his health improved so much in the five years he had lived on South Vancouver Island that he was able to go off his many prescription medications.
She felt optimistic, and enjoyed the temperate climate with its dry summer, reliable organic food sources and nearby capital of Victoria. But life sometimes makes our decisions for us and unfortunately, the air was often not clean enough for either her or her friend, confirmed by her symptoms of severe fatigue and by her friend’s swollen lips and skin rashes. She sadly realized that the mist and smoke from solid fuels in the nine rainy cold months of the year would only make the situation worse. She returned to Holland and stayed for 9 months, always protected by her mobile respirator and indoor air purifiers.
Goodbye Party, Thailand 2006 (with respirator tube under her nose)
In 2005 she and her companion left for the island of Koh Pangan in Thailand, and because she had been so protected by constant use of her respirator helmet and air purifiers in Holland, she found on Koh Pangan she could tolerate perfumes, car exhausts and cigarette smoke again and was able to abandon her helmet for several weeks, much to her surprise. She loved to be in the lukewarm sea water and realized that the bowel pains and cold sensations she would get in her abdominal area with all of the airplanes flying overhead in Holland had gone away. On the island, she needed only a thin carbon mask when near traffic or scented people. Things were looking good.
But eventually, scented laundry detergents and other toxic products the local people were using started to bother her again and cause disturbing symptoms. The locals would also burn palm tree wood to make charcoal and produce smoke “to scare snakes and mosquitoes” and this made it more and more difficult for Mirjam to remain on the island. She and her companion left for Cha-am, a bathing resort area for Thai and Chinese people two hours outside Bangkok, for a month. Due to the traffic there, she had to don her respirator helmet again while riding her bicycle around town.
Mirjam spent the dry winter on a family farm in Isaan in Northeast Thailand. The owners of the farm spoke English, and she enjoyed her stay in a nice bamboo hut on poles. But when the monsoon season rolled around, the bamboo got moldy and she spent the next six months sleeping under a grass rooflet without electricity. She was right next to the jungle and in between banana trees, which allowed her to release electromagnetic frequency waves (EMFs) into the ground and become more and more attuned with nature’s rhythms. As time progressed, she felt better and better. She no longer needed to wear her air filtration unit, for the most part, as the locals usually used scent free laundry powder (it was the cheapest option available in the area) or farm-made products produced entirely from natural ingredients.
Tropical MCS living: a bed for rainy nights, Sri Lanka 2007
Everyone on the farm took her sensitivities into account, but she still found that she had symptoms of chronic fatigue and muscle/joint/skin pains. She also often felt drowsy. She surmised that this was caused by the constant smoke in the air from nearby burning woods and also from brown clouds of pollution being brought over from China. The rainy season brought airborne mold and had an increasingly negative effect on her health. She often felt depressed by the numerous clear-cuts dotting the landscape that were making way for rubber plantations. Another distressing fact for her was the absence of wildlife; most people were very poor and would eat local animals like rabbits, squirrels, lizards, birds and many insects.
All these things factored into her decision that Thailand was not a good emigration country for her, and she returned once again—deviced and helmeted—to Amsterdam. To her great surprise, she felt totally energetic there for the first time in her 20 years of illness with CFS/MCS. She came to the conclusion that the cleaner air and constant sweating due to the tropical heat had improved her health dramatically.
In 2007 Mirjam visited Sri Lanka, initially for just a few weeks and later, for a long summer near Mihintale in the central north part of the country. There, living in a remote and semi-wild permaculture garden at the border of a wild reserve, she improved so much in two months that she was able to enter a hotel for her visa renewal in the capital Colombo without use of her respirator. She felt so happy in this beautiful permaculture garden, that she made plans to start a “reserve for MCS canaries” in this unspoiled area called Akka Allia Watta.
TOO MANY CHALLENGES
But cultural differences and other factors proved too difficult over time. As most Sri Lankan are very poor, get little school education and only speak Singhalese, Mirjam had few local contacts and most of her social interactions were via her computer or with the few locals she found who spoke limited English. She also had some negative experiences, being cheated by people she thought she could trust. The isolation, civil war, and the 6 months of smoke and rain helped her decide this was not the emigration country for her.
But this daring woman does not give up! In 2008 she spent 6 months in Pereybere, Mauritius in an eastern facing hotel room with a view of an enormous papaya plant. This was in the north of the country where wind blows from the southeast, carrying pollution from industrial areas but not the perfume from guests living in the hotel, which made Mirjam very happy. She kept her air purifier on constantly in her room, right beside her on the large bed, which also acted as white noise to drown out other guests and the traffic from the parking area below.
Anyone who has traveled knows that we all fall into routines that we love once we settle into a new place. For Mirjam, it was waking up hours early, while it was still dark, when she discovered she felt her best and did not need her “trunk” (an affectionate term she used for her respirator tube, which had inspired locals in Sri Lanka to nickname her “baby elephant”).
In contrast to her experience in Thailand and Sri Lanka, on this island she was able to speak with almost everyone since the locals mostly alternate between English and French with tourists (and among themselves often speak French-based Creole). But because the very diverse and beautiful beaches on Mauritius were mostly flanked by roads, she almost always had to wear her respirator tube outdoors.
Mirjam’s dream of spending a month in an unspoiled area of Rodrigues island never came to fruition, however. Due to daily living costs and local requirements, she would need to marry a local inhabitant of the Mauritian territory or, otherwise, bring a huge amount of money which would open the possibility to immigrate. Her symptoms of fatigue and drowsiness from exposure to local pollution led to her decision to only go there if she could find a travel companion, which she could not. This is the reality of trying to find a clean place to live in nature in our world today; we are facing not just environmental challenges but cultural, financial and others as well.
Mirjam’s three experiences living mostly outside in a tropical garden with fresh vegetables and fruits where she felt happy helped her to define what she was looking for…and she thinks she can find it in northeast Brazil, the site of her next adventure!
TROPICAL ADVENTURE #4
She has discovered the Piracanga ecovillage near Itacaré in Bahia. She spoke with a Dutch-speaking man living there and he offered Mirjam the opportunity to live in a cottage made of natural materials for a defined period of time. Mirjam is now seeking a companion to travel with—are you interested in the adventure of a lifetime, to seek a clean place to live in health and peace? If so, please contact Mirjam by sending a private message through her Planet Thrive profile “mirjamcs.”
Her intention is to stay in Brazil for 179 days beginning March 25, 2009. She envisions her days: “lying in a hammock, walking and photographing around, busy with my laptop, swimming, dancing, singing, starting a permaculture garden, traveling around the neighborhood, and in contact with all kind of beautiful beings.”
For those who are wondering, it took some time for Mirjam to gain the confidence to go anywhere she desires despite, and because of, her respirator helmet. She remembers the days before the departure of her first big trip: “I woke up shivering because all plans suddenly had changed due to an unexpected event.”
WALKING THROUGH FEAR
Before she traveled to Thailand she often had severe bowel pains after inhaling a tiny amount of unfiltered air. She was frightened that this could happen during the trip. But this did not stop her. She went to Sri Lanka with less anxiety after securing a caretaker of Singhalese origin to travel with her. But unfortunately things did not work out with him and she had a very bad experience. But again, this did not stop her. In Mauritius she learned she was able to stay in a hotel on her own for six months. With each trip, she expanded her boundaries, and learned more about her own limitations. She learned to trust in, and celebrate, the opening mysteries of life.
In Amsterdam, some people have screamed at her on the street when she wore her breath protection device but Mirjam refused to hide and become invisible. This strong spirited woman sought a better life, and she found hope for improved health by taking huge risks in the face of much anxiety and challenge. And she found the locals in the tropical countries she visited were much more accepting. She found she could go for weeks without her respirator helmet when conditions were right. She learned that to be courageous is not to be without fear; but to walk through it—with her helmeted head held high!
This article was originally published on the now defunct website MCSsafehomes.com on March 24, 2009 and transferred to the re|shelter website on February 22, 2011 under the original publication date.