By Kristian Rasmussen
Chizuko Purschwitz has led a life of adventure that would pique the interest of the most swashbuckling of explorers. From receiving an invitation to meet the Dalai Llama, to learning to speak eight languages while raising two daughters, to investigating archaeological digs in Cairo, Chizuko has lived an intriguing life.
Born after the Second World War in the southern area of Japan known as Kyushu, Chizuko lived what she described as a very quiet and serene childhood. Despite feeling that she may have missed out on some of the technology of today, Chizuko maintains that a simple life can be very rewarding.
“Everybody talks about Mozart. How come he was a genius in music? How could he compose such delicate, difficult music when he was seven or eight? He didn’t have any distractions,” she said.
Although she didn’t have any electronic distractions as a child, Chizuko found herself pulled in a multitude of different directions.
“I was interested in everything I saw, heard, or felt. I explored accordingly.”
Following her senses led Chizuko into the world of archaeology, where she had to learn to speak and write Arabic, going on to help lead archaeological digs in Cairo and Alexandria.
“Egypt was a far away dreamland to me at that time,” she explained. “It had lots of mysteries and fantasy. Archaeology was a mystery novel. I wanted to solve the puzzle.”
While she was busy unearthing artifacts, Chizuko also made another exciting find. Achim Purschwitz was studying zoology in Cairo and traveling around the area. The two fell in love and have been together since.
After sifting love from the Egyptian sands, Chizuko went on to make other exciting discoveries.
“I was studying perfumology: to make a medicine from perfume. To find this ancient medicine was amazing,” she enthused.
Despite her experience in studying the culture of the ancient Egyptians, Chizuko couldn’t choose which area of the country she is most interested in.
“All [Egyptian culture] is connected and interwoven in some way, but still each group has their own way. In Alexandria they had more influence from Greece. Southern Egypt has more influence from Ethiopia and Sudan. The middle section of Egypt, where the pyramids and Sphinx are, is still a mystery of the world.”
Eternally enthusiastic about learning, Chizuko also taught herself to speak eight different languages.
“When I was seven years old our American neighbour visited us and wrote my name in English phonetic spelling,” she said. “I was curious with the different spelling of my name. I wanted to know more. As I got older I wanted to search what kind of scripts and languages exist in the world.”
Chizuko used her linguistic leanings to help aid her in adventure.
“I like to visit people in little villages when I travel, and learn their living philosophy.” One of the philosophical phrases that Chizuko has found to be most relevant to her is, “knowledge is for sharing.”
The way in which she learned to converse and share language so widely was in fact a labour of love.
“I had a linguist, or genius I should say, who was a brother of my sister-in-law.”
The relative was unfortunately confined to a sanatorium, due to tuberculosis.
“When I went to go visit him he told me that I should learn how to say ‘I love you’ in as many languages as possible,” she said.
Chizuko learned to master the sentence in close to 30 different tongues. She built up her linguistic skills in relation to the sentence and currently converses in four different languages: Japanese, English, German and Spanish. At one point she also studied Hungarian, Czech, Chinese, Hindi and Arabic.
Chizuko found her greatest challenge when learning to speak classical Arabic.
“Arabic was a language that I will never forget. I had to study it very hard. I can still write and read, but the conversational Arabic is difficult.”
But despite some challenges she eventually found her favourite aspect of language.
“The most interesting sector of language is the poem. In a short paragraph you can express so many different things,” Chizuko explained.
Her favourite poet is 1990 Nobel Prize winner, Octavio Paz of Mexico.
Along with linguistic adventures, the Radium resident’s adveturing lifestyle almost led her to cross paths with the Dalai Llama. When Chizuko was 18, she met a relative of the Dalai Llama, Tsering Dolma La, in Tokyo. Mrs. La was sent by the Dalai Llama to help develop a plan for publishing a dictionary of Tibetan phrases in Japanese. Chizuko maintained a relationship with Mrs. La for several years.
When Dolma La returned to India, the Dalai Llama opened the Tibetan Cultural Center in New Delhi. Chizuko and her husband, Achim, received invitations to meet him there but unfortunately missed the event.
“I was born as a Buddhist,” Chizuko said. “Buddhism represents compassion, which is my life-long lesson. The Dalai Llama’s messages are based on compassion, which led me into the serene state of mind.”
The words of John Lennon’s song Imagine have always represented the teachings of the Dalai Llama to Chizuko, she explained. Although she has great respect for the Buddhist leader, the explorer also maintains that there are ordinary people that are equally as courageous.
After experiencing so many cultures and regions, Chizuko and Achim decided to settle in the Columbia Valley in 1973 to raise a family.
During their time in Radium, the Purschwitz family grew to include two daughters: Anne Marie, 45, and Natalie, 40. Anne Marie now lives in Kelowna and is the mother of twin girls, Coco and Tedi, both six in June.Their younger daughter Natalie is a textile and fashion art designer. She lives in Paris on an artist residency granted by the Canadian Art Council.
The family has long been interested in self-expression through art. Achim is an accomplished nature photographer and Chizuko has learned to play several instruments, including the recorder.
“I like the sound of Alto recorder, which resonates to my soul. I took up the flute about 10 years ago and would like to continue playing the rest of my life.”
Chizuko’s world has been full of rewarding experiences. The mother of two knows when to give back.
“I like to help people who are in need because people help me when I am in need.” The reciprocal nature of her life has inspired her to organize such events as the 2011 Japan Tsunami Relief Concert in Invermere, which raised $4,000 to aid tsunami victims.
The Purschwitz credit the friendly people of Radium and the beautiful natural setting for settling their roots in the Columbia Valley. The intrepid explorer maintains a humble nature and looks forward to many more years of adventure with her husband and family.