Tuesday, 25 December 2018


Guilt. (‘gilt) noun 1. the fact of having committed a break of conduct especially violating law and involving penalty; A jury will determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence. 2a. the state of one who has committed an offence especially consciously; His guilt was written all over his face. 2b. feeling of deserving blame especially for imagined offences or from a sense of inadequacy: SELF-REPORACH.
3. a feeling of deserving blame for offences; Wracked by guilt, he confessed his affairs.- Merriam-Webster Dictionary
To a good number of people in the world, Christmas is a time that is spent enjoying time with family, visiting loved ones, and sharing a meal, a drink, or both. Within that group of people, there are a number who include spending time at church, practicing their religious beliefs, as a part of their celebration. As well, there is a group that feels the exchange of gifts is a necessary part of this holiday.

All of these are quite well known.

But there's another group within the group. This is a group who may not celebrate in the way the Hallmark-world wants them to. They aren’t typically acknowledged, and yet, they somehow suffer it out year-after-year.

Growing up, I knew about this lesser-known group. I had an inside track: my Mom.

For those who knew my Mom, you’re well aware how much she loved pretty much every holiday. She would decorate weeks in advance, and bake whatever themed cookies, treats and more to give out to friends, family, neighbours, and anyone who happened to be in proximity of our home (if you found yourself lost or had your car breakdown in front of the house, you were leaving with a bag of fresh baked goods!).

Despite this, there was a part of her that not many knew about - the dreaded family dinner.

In the last few years of her life, it became more and more obvious (at least to those closest to her) that these family events were a source of anger, resentment, and dread. We had many conversations about how they made her feel after we all parted ways to our separate households, and I gotta say, it didn’t sound great. There was a part of her that wished she could simply skip them altogether. But, there was a much bigger part of her that felt guilty for feeling this way.

The first Christmas after she passed, I worried about how things would go at our tri-annual family gathering*. I avoided Thanksgiving so I wouldn’t have to deal with the whole first major holiday sans-Mom thing. And to be honest, it was great! Everyone got along, things seemed to be a collaboration, and I left that day feeling good.

Then I fled the country for a while.

The thing about spending Christmas in another country, is that you learn how it is for others. I don’t mean this in the now I know how grateful I am to be Canadian sort of way that most people would assume, but in more of a holy noodles - we’ve been doing it wrong sort of way.

Aside from the excessive presence of Celine Dion Christmas tracks playing 24-7, the holiday season in Uganda was really about sharing time with family. For a good majority of folks who celebrated, this also included some sort of church service or services. It made me realize just how beautiful Christmas could be.

So, when I returned home a few years later, it was a rude awakening to confront those differences. Rather than a slower pace, filled with meaningful moments, it was less about the quality and more about the quantity. And that’s never a good mix.

In the nearly year and a half since I returned home, I have wanted to spend less and less time with family...or really anyone. Things changed from when I left to when I returned, and it hasn’t gotten much better.

This year, I decided I wasn't going to play that game. I was going to take back the joy of Christmas, and spend the holiday the way I actually want to. Of course, this lasted until about December 23rd, when the heavy weight of guilt started to set upon me. And guess what - I’m participating in the family dinner, once again.

The thing is - the meal will be delicious, the conversations will be fine, and it will be great to see everyone. But it’s so surface level. Nobody actually talks about anything of value. It’s small talk...for two hours. It’s an obligation for everyone! I know this because everyone else shows up 15 minutes before the meal is scheduled to begin and leaves the minute the dessert plates are cleared (if the even stay that long, citing any number of excuses to vacate the premises).

Today, as I drove home from a little Mama-Puppy bonding time, Coldplay came on the radio, and I erupted in tears. This year, I, too, know where my Mom was coming from. I feel the anger, the resentment, and the dread that she once did. I am my mother’s daughter whether I like it or not. And like her, I will never be able to stop the cycle, because, like her, guilt ultimately controls how I make decisions when it comes to family. Not my desire to engage with something or a whole lotta somebodies. Not my being swept up in the magic of it all. Guilt. And imagined guilt, born out of a sense of inadequacy, at that.

-the Orange Canadian

*We tend to meet for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Me and all Moai friends

It’s hard to put into words all that I experienced last week*. I never imagined I would ever get to Easter Island in my life time - especially this early on! The intrigue of Easter Island is a) because I’m an environmental history nerd, b) because I’m a nerd and c) because of the island’s history. Getting to see the Moai in person and to learn more, first hand, about the history and culture of this island has been #2 on my travel bucket list for well over a decade. The amazing thing is that bucket list #1 is climbing Kilimanjaro, which I was able to at least see earlier this year! Who would have thought I'd complete one in full and a second in part in the same year. (And for the record, my goal is Kili by 2023)

In August of this year, I was having a crappy day. Usually this prompts me to check out flights to any number of places and for whatever reason I happened upon a deal that I just couldn’t pass up**. Round trip airfare to Easter Island for a 10th of the price I usually see it at. I felt like this was too good to be true, but sure enough, it was a legit flight and price.

Upon arrival I was picked up from the airport by the hotel’s owner. She drive me around town and helped me to navigate my way around before arriving at the property to get settled and take a much needed shower***. I then ventured into town (about a 20 minute walk each way and involving a trek either up or down a hill) in search of a much needed bite to eat. And this is when I learned just how small the island is...

Within a few minutes, I had bumped into someone I had met on the plane. We then proceeded to tour around Hanga Roa (which means long bay in Rapa Nui language) coming across Tahai, the cemetery and several horses. We eventually parted ways, I grabbed dinner and made my way back to the hotel to catch some overdue zzz’s.

Look at the blue! First impression/visual of Hanga Roa.
First glimpse of Tahai. These are recreations of Moai that were originally placed here.
(Above and below)

The cemetery. Such a beautiful space with so many bright colours celebrating the lives of those found within. 
Day two started with a delicious breakfast and then I was picked up for a the first of two full days of cruising around the island. And they were full days! The guides for both days, Ata and Benjamin showed us the many highlights of the island, while offering up much of its history and just being genuinely fun guys to hangout with.

This tour included six stops, including: Anakena, Te pito kura, Puna Pau, Ahu Akivi, Tahai and Orango. Each told a different part of the island’s history.

Anakena - the birthplace of Rapa Nui culture. The Moai that sit upon this alter are the tributes to Royalty. 
On the backs of the Moai are carvings that depict several things, but usually represent the transition from life to the afterlife. You can’t see them well here - partly due to sunlight and partly due to how far away you are from them as a measure of protection/preservation - but the detail on these Moai are quite visible. This is possible because of their location.
Te pito kura or the navel of the world. Really cool history here, but also - stellar backdrop!
The view of Hanga Roa from Puna Pao!
This is the site where the pukao, or hats/topknots were carved. 
The quarry where the pukao were created. It’s pretty overgrown now, but you can see subtle reminders of what once was. 

Ahu a Kivi, or the Seven Sailors. It is believed that a priest had a dream which prompted seven sailors to take to the seas only to find themselves upon Rapa Nui! Of course, it also correlates to a certain seven-star constellation which happens to pass by this exact spot for three months of the year, beginning around the month of June...
The Seven Sailors from behind. It also rained while we were here, creating a nice break from the heat and humidity!
Back to Tahai for the second time in as many days! 
Picture perfect - this is Moto Nui, which is sometimes called Birdman’s Island. This is the island that was part of the Birdman competition! What a view from Orongo - the birthplace of the Birdman Society!
These are the houses that competitors would live in leading up to the competition. It reminded me so much of L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Now I want to go there even more! There are 54 in all!
Also at this stop is Rano Kou - one of the three volcanos on the island! The unique feature here is that the crater is home to a large source of water! See the video below. 

Afterwards, a fellow tour mate, Chicago, and I continued our venture in Hanga Roa and eventually found a place to grab dinner. Then we parted ways, and I made the trek up the hill for an evening of relaxing, reading, and trying to recount every fact I had been given throughout the day. 

The next day I jumped back into the van with Chicago and the boys (great band name!) and a few others we picked up along the way and began the second day of touring. This day included: Tongariki, Reno Raraku, Akahanga, Vaihu and Vinapu. Again - we uncovered more of the history and culture. It was also a sad break fro my travel buddies, as Chicago was heading on to her next destination, and I could no longer afford to pay Ata and Benjamin to hangout with me.

The 15 Moai that make of Tongariki and the fallen 16th. In 1960, a tsunami hit the island, which destroyed this area. It was actually referred to as the mess. The tallest of these Moai is 10 feet, and estimates place the wave at a minimum of 15 feet. In the early ‘90s, a Japanese company donated a crane and paid for the restoration of this site, which was completed in 1997. To recreate the ahu, old pictures and drawings were used to put the pieces together so that we can see them as such today. 
A view from behind. 
And speaking of behind...this one’s got a bit of a tushy! Always the mature one...
Welcome to Rano Raraku - THE QUARRY! This is where the Moai were carved out of the rock  and later transported to their alter. Here, you can see one still in the rock, which was abandoned for one of many reasons - the end of the Moai era, or to compete with an even larger one, among other reasons. 
This bad boy is the largest Moai found to date. Can you see him, sleeping amongst the stone? If you can believe, he is actually 7 stories tall, most of which has been buried due to erosion and such!
Carved Moai that were abandoned before transport, many of which had the details etched into their backs. Again, we can only see part of these, as most of their bodies are actually underground. 

An ocean shot from Akahanga. There was also a cave that we visited here, but the pictures all seemed blurry. These caves were used to mark territory and where quite uniquely designed...but you’ll have to take me word for it!
Vaihu. This is a recreation of a typical village found near the ocean. In this image you can see one of the housing structures. 
Aside from the home, there are these round planters, which are actually quite tall.  Here they grew a number of things, including sugarcane and a plant that was used to make cloth fibres for clothing. The rectangular structure in the background is a chicken coop!
The final stop, Vinapu, included the only female Moai. There is a bit of disagreement about what this actually represents. Some believe it’s a representation of Mother Earth, while others believe it to be Mary. Apparently it was two headed, which could also represent a woman pre-PMS and whilst PMSing... just a thought.  
The days following the two intensive tours were not as exciting. Ata and Benjamin were a tough act to follow. On my first day sans Chicago and the boys, I walked into town and made my way toward the museum. I ended up checking out Tahai for the third and fourth time and was amazed by how each visit to this same site showed the Moai in different ways. Before the museum, though, I started part of the hike along the shoreline, but gave up because it was hot and my need to pee outweighed my desire to exercise.

The outside of the Museum.
My best shot of Tahai! 
Afterwards, I grabbed a bite to eat, checked out some of the markets, and then made my way back to the hotel, as I had an early start the next day.

This was the view from my room. It was so relaxing to sit outside and read, or just watch the chickens run around. It reminded me so much of Uganda, which made me incredibly homesick, but in a comforting sort of way. 
My final full day started with a 5:50AM pick up. The destination? Back to Tongariki - the place I had started my tour only a few days before. I had a great conversation with my guide and we made it just in time to secure a good parking spot (both for the car and for me to witness and take photos of the sunrise). There is something spectacular about a sunrise. Sunset? Sure, they’re okay too, but how many people actually get to see sunrises on the regular? Tongariki did not disappoint.

No words. 

A side view. That mountain in the background is Rano Raraku, or the Quarry!  I think this was my favourite place on the island. So beautiful, but also oddly peaceful despite all the people. 
“Sun’s coming up and a new day starts. Ain’t nobody trying to break my heart.”
- Walk This Road, Bruce Guthro
How can you feel anything but alive when you get to witness this first hand?!
The rest of the day was spent relaxing and doing some final wandering around Hanga Roa. I also had an incredible meal that will make all future meals pale in comparison.

My view from the restaurant. You can’t see them, but if you were to look hard enough there’s a couple of canoes out there that had just flipped. It was so much fun watching them chase the waves...and tip continuously!
In the evening, I jumped into another vehicle and attempted to undergo a stargazing tour. Here’s the thing, it was disorganized and a little preachy**** (there was a slide show!). It had been raining just as the tour began, so the sky wasn’t super clear. Luckily when we arrived back at Anakena, I found few stray dogs and got my money’s worth in dog snuggles. I named one of them George. My only regret in life is not bringing him back home with me. I did get to see some stars, though, between snuggles. Here’s my best shot from the night:

My final morning was odd. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve gone somewhere just for fun. It wasn’t work. I didn’t feel a sense of loss in leaving, other than the dread of returning to winter in Canada. But, I’d made a few friends on the island; people I hope I get to see again in this life. I’m still in disbelief that the past week actually happened. I feel grateful for the time I spent on the island and to all of those who shared a piece of their home, their history, and their energy with me.

Once in a life time, for sure.

-the Orange Canadian

*I mean let’s face it - I still haven’t been able to put my trip to Kenya into words yet - and that was in May!
**You know, because who doesn’t deal with rough days by daydreaming about running away...?
***Sometimes I feel like the less active I am the more disgusting I smell. Also, after living in Canada for a year, I’d forgotten how magical cold showers were! 
****Further proving just how great Ata and Benjamin were!

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Rapa Nui: A Cole’s Notes style history lesson with just a dash of wit

There have been very few times in my life that I've waiting to do or see something and it's lived up to or exceeded my expectations. In fact, I can list them all: the Colosseum (2015), the River Nile (2016 although I’d seen it before), Mt. Kilimanjaro (2018), and now, Rapa Nui (2018).

I didn’t tell many people where I was heading. This was partly because most people that I did tell had no clue what I was talking about, but also because I truly did not believe this was going to happen until at least the second full day on the island was complete. Several questioned why I would want to go there over any of the other islands in the world. And the truth is, I’ve been interested in this place ever since I saw a television advertisement for Dristan in the 1990s.

In recent years, the island seemed to pop up in course work for my undergrad and in one of the books that led me to attend university in the first place - A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright. It fascinated me how quickly an entire ecosystem could be decimated by human activity and have always thought of this as THE place to look at environmental history and the impact we humans have on the world around us.

Before I really get into my trip, perhaps it would be good to provide a bit of the background.

Rapa Nui, or Easter Island as it’s known more widely, is believed to be the most isolated inhabited island in the world. It is a territory of Chile, although it’s found 3500+ kilometres away from the continent. The nearest inhabited place are the Pitcairn Islands located 2075 kilometres north-west of Rapa Nui. I’ll be honest, the idea of heading to an island that doesn’t even show up on a world map because it’s so small was something that made me hesitant to visit. Thankfully, this did not appear to bother me once I arrived (tsunami signage and all!).

Image Source: Google Maps
Notice that the town name, Hanga Roa, takes more space than the island itself?!
In case you were wondering, the safe zone area was basically the church, which, for any Nova Scotia folks,
is about the distance of running from the harbour to Barrington, maybe Argyle Street. Upon seeing these signs, I asked how big of a threat this was and was told the last tsunami took place just 3 years ago. You’d never know...
Anyway, the Polynesians are said to have arrived on the island somewhere around 300 to 1200 CE/AC. It was essentially the last stop in the trifecta that makes up the Polynesian area, and as a result was given the nickname Te pito o te henua or land’s end/the navel of the world. Eventually they set up shop, and before long they began to search for ways to honour their ancestors. This came in the form of what we now know today to be the Moai (you know - those famous head statues, as some of you have described...).

Building the Moai was labour intensive, resource intensive, basically just intensive. It took a lot of time to carve the statues, plus transporting them throughout the island (which is only 22.5 kilometres by a little over 11 kilometres, for the record...but it’s a hilly 22.5 by 11!), and setting them upon their alters, or ahu.

To put this into perspective, to date, there are 887 Moai registered/known on the island. Of those, 288 had been moved and placed (at one time) on one of the ahu, 397 can be found at the quarry, and the remaining were enroute to their respective ahu. That’s a lot of rock and man power. And it became completely unsustainable (surprise!). Eventually, the Moai era came to an end and those beautiful creations came tumbling down.

Following the end of the Moai era, it got a bit weird. Enter: the Birdman era. Okay, so, it wasn’t entirely weird, at least not in the good way, but it was pretty competitive. Essentially, in the time of building Moai, there was a king-based socio-political structure to the Rapa Nui lifestyle. The Birdman era sought to change this, by giving everyday folk a chance. This, my friends, is known as the Birdman Competition.

This competition is like no other I have ever heard of. Picture a bunch of scantly clad sirs scooting down a steep cliff (approximately 300 meters) into the ocean with floatation devices made of reeds to a near by island (known in English as Birdman’s Island, but to the Rapa Nui as Motu Nui.). Once there, they searched for the first manutara (or the sooty tern) egg of the year. When the lucky guy was successful, he place the egg in a sort of headpiece, and swam back to Rapa Nui, climbed up the cliff and was then deemed ruler for the year. Of course, they had to deal with the usual challenges of swimming in the ocean, plus the risk of being murdered by other competitors if they found out you had the egg. Kinda makes our elections seem pretty boring, eh?

The Birman competitions continued until the white-folk showed up in 1722. And this, is when Rapa Nui was transformed into Easter Island. The reason? Well, the Dutch showed up on Easter Sunday 1722 and hence, the name Easter Island became the name of “choice” to both the Dutch and the other white explorers to follow. Not unlike a typical Easter in my family though, instead of a good home cooked dinner and conversation, these explorers brought disease, slavery and Christianity to the island over time. Also, they made the island exist...because the hundreds of years before they “discovered” it, there wasn’t really anything going on...

In the 1860s palm production began, which once again decimated the environment and brought down the population significantly. (Side note: in case you haven’t been paying attention, this is the 4th societal/environmental collapse I’ve mentioned here in the island’s history...) The most recent shenanigan was an attempt to produce sheep, which lasted until the 1950s. It also did not great things to the island’s environment.

Today, the island has recently passed a law that makes landownership exclusive to the Rapa Nui. This means, not unlike Canada, you have to show up with a job offer in order to stay, but you can’t own land or a house. The island is also a National Park, and is now solely operated by Rapa Nui (although guides and such do not need to be Rapa Nui).

To conclude, if you haven’t been able to see the link between human genius/irresponsible activity and the impact it has on both people and the environment, well, what can I say? But, if you have, then you can see why the history of the island (and I mean the real history, not the half-assed attempt at recounting every word I’ve read or heard and trying to make it fun for you to read) is one of the best examples of environmental collapse. BUT it also gives hope that we can actually rebuild should something like this happen on a larger scale (i.e. globally). I just hope we come up with something better than a Birdman competition...

-the Orange Canadian

Airports: The best and worst of humanity

Over the last decade, but more so the past 5 years, I've done my fair share of travelling. Most times this has been for work or studies. Often, they are stressful for an introverted kid like me, as they usually involve swarms of people and disorganized chaos. But despite all that, they're truly a wonderful social experiment - showcasing the highs and lows of human behaviour and emotion.

Think about it, where else do you get to witness the excitement and anticipation of what's to come? Emotional reunions? First steps together in the form of a honeymoon, or signs of lasting relationships?

When you get to witness these moments as a bystander, it's pretty amazing. I often think about one of my departures from Uganda and the experience with the Somali family who had just been granted residency in the US. I still think about how beautiful that time was and how excited they were, and how those in line rallied with them to celebrate this incredible news - a chance at a better, safer life.

And then there are those on the opposite end of the spectrum. Those who are rude, grumpy, or oblivious that there are others around them. It's at these times when I am needing to be mindful and practice patience. This isn't always easy, of course, especially when children are involved... or rather their clueless or inattentive parents!

It always amazes me how you can see such beauty, and then turn your head to the right or left and see someone at their worst. I'm also uncertain of how quickly some people lose their common sense. For example, on one of my return flights home, a man unbuckled his seat belt, stood up, and all but draped himself across my slot of seats to capture a photo of take off. Just picture a grown man, seated in the aisle of the middle group of seats, leaning across said aisle and into the three seats across from where he should have been! Ugh. People.

If you focused on these negative experiences, you'd never travel, because sometimes it's enough to turn you off completely. There are airports that I try to avoid because staff or passengers are so off-putting, it just isn't worth it. Mind you, I'm in one of those now, as I type! That's why, when I get to witness those moments of happiness, of couples holding hands, or too far gone reunions finally taking place, I take the time to smile and appreciate each one, because in this day and age, you never know when you'll have the chance to witness another.

-the (overtired) Orange Canadian

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Canada Post didn’t steal Christmas - Capitalism did

Can we all just talk for a second about the whole the Canada Post strike is ruining Christmas thing?

Image source: Social Media
Over the last few weeks, my social media has been filled with posts about how terrible Canada Post is for striking at this time (see above). Sure they have recently been legislated back to work, things will be a bit out of sorts for a while (Although, how backed up is it really, given that it was a rolling strike and mail was still be processed as usual - it’s the time of year for parcels and such to be delayed!). But despite all of this, allow me let you in on a little secret...it’s strategic! They recognize the fighting power they gain from pissing off the whole country in the days and weeks leading up to one of the most hypocritical holidays ever - Christmas.

Before I make my point, why not back it up for a second and look at the two major issues that have led to the latest edition of the Canadian Postal Workers Strike. They are:

A) Pay Equity. Did you know that postal workers are paid in two different ways depending on where they service? For example, urban mail carriers (the majority of whom are male) get paid by the hour. Female carriers sorry, rural carriers (who happen to be majority female) are paid by the size of their service area (a.k.a a lump sum).

B) Workplace safety. I know we all know the stereotype of postmen impregnating the ladies on their route being attacked or chased away by dogs (and let’s face it - there’s probably quite a bit of that!). But lets also consider road conditions - both weather wise and infrastructurally - physical demands, and weather more generally (think the extremes already faced this year - crazy cold with mega snow/ice, torrential downpour leading to flash floods, or heatwaves that lasted for weeks without any relief), among others. Injuries are bound to occur on the job. And, in fact they do... so much so that there’s actually been a rise of 43% over the past 2 years, based on an internal review.

Look, I’m not super in favour of this strike business. It seems like every year they are on strike. But I am, however, a fan of being treated fairly and understanding the desire to work in a safe environment (and lord knows how many times I’ve ranted - fiercely - about the increasingly terrible driver attention over the past year or so!). But both of these reasons seem fairly rational and fair. I want to be paid for the work I’m doing and not feel unsafe while I do it.

Where the strike loses me is when I think about the dying industry that is physical mail. I’m not really sure why the postal service needs to be run in the manner it currently is. Why do residential addresses require daily mail delivery? Wouldn’t it make more sense to reduce the number of delivery days given that so much of what is mailed is junk, since bills and general correspondence are mostly done via the web?

But that’s not really even the problem here. The problem is that no one seems to care about the reasons for the strike (in fact try to find the reasons - it’s not easy!), but rather their precious Christmas gifts. And it’s disheartening that so many people can’t even reconcile why that is the problem at hand. 

Remember when Christmas was about a baby being born miraculously in some random barn? Do you remember when it was about sharing a good meal with your family? Do you remember when it was about anything OTHER than how many gifts you’ll get, who you need to buy for, or how much debt you’ve incurred in the process?

Does no one else think it’s sad that material goods seem to matter more than the quality of a persons work environment, or how they are being paid? I, for one, have struggled with the whole Christmas thing for many years. In fact, the two best Christmases I’ve had in my adult life were spent in Uganda. There was no focus on presents. It was about spending quality time with friends and family. My first Christmas in Uganda was spent exploring the beauty of my other country with two friends, while the next was spent with my good friend’s family. And both were meaningful and impactful, and neither had to do with physical, material goods. They were about experiences. 

I have a rule when it comes to Christmas. Okay, two. First - I don’t acknowledge it until December 23rd. Second - I don’t do gifts. Instead, if I see something I think someone would like/need/benefit from, I buy it and give it to them at that time. Or, I offer to do things (share experiences), such as cook the family dinner, go on a drive, or just simply have a visit that involves one-on-one conversation instead of selfies, social media, or the constant need to be checking a phone. 

I’m really tired of being angry about the way the world works. I am, however, thankful to be in my own home with my pup, and with a job that allows me to life comfortably and travel. But sometimes I think it would be nice to be a hermit. 

-the Orange Canadian

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

We’ve come along way, baby!

Guys - I’m angry again.

Some of you might remember my we need a break letter to Canada a few years ago. Some of you might have even agreed with how I was feeling, and some of you definitely did not. And since then, many (MANY!) things have changed. Some good, some not.

Let’s start with the good...

I had a joyous reunion with my brother the weekend before last. We seem to have an unspoken deal that we can only see each other on nights that involve the risk of flash flooding. The last time we had one of these catchups, it involved what was quite possibly the worst movie I’ve ever been subjected to since Titanic. That was months ago, and I still haven’t figured out what happened.

This time, however, we went to see Bohemian Rhapsody.

Being lifelong Queen fans because of The Mujjie, it felt like a natural time to share some space and avoid talking about heavy topics, such as how much The Mujjie would have loved it or how much she loved them, or the fact that it’s been five and a half years, but it seems like everyone has since forgotten her. Instead, I sobbed like a baby the entire drive home, like the mature adult that I am.

If you have never heard of this band or been blessed to hear the vocal chords of a one Freddie Mercury a) where have you been, b) I’m sorry you’re life has had no meaning up to this point and c) you’re in for a treat that will only leave you feeling sad because you will never get another the first time I heard his voice moment again. There are so many examples of his breathtaking talent, that I can’t choose just one song to share... but I’m going to anyway.

Too Much Love Will Kill You (1992; from the Album released in 1995)
A lesser known tune, but one that is embedded in my brain as part of the soundtrack of my childhood. 
I have lived memories of driving across the MacKay Bridge towards Dartmouth and singing this with 
The Mujjie. This album never seemed to have the popularity it deserved. A sad, but beautiful collection
 of one of the greatest singer of all time's final thoughts. 

But, this post isn’t meant to be a review of the film - I do actually have a point...

Aside from the numerous inaccuracies and wonky timeline, something really amazing happened. Something that shouldn’t have surprised me, but did - no one in the theatre gave a shit that the story was about a gay man. There were several demographics in that nearly-filled theatre, and yet everyone seemed to leave with tears of joy and sadness, filled with nostalgia and longing to hear more of that one-of-a-kind creativity that is Freddie Mercury’s Queen. No homophobic remarks. No wigging out when the characters kissed. Nothing. Just total engagement with the film. I was so excited to think, in 2018, we were focused on the music and not the sexual preference of a band’s lead singer.

And then I read a book on systemic racism in Canada.

Earlier in the year, I read a book, written by first-time writer, Angie Thomas - The Hate U Give. It’s a young adult book, but it touches on the police violence against African Americans, that we assume doesn’t happen in Canada. A month ago, they released it as a film, and this past weekend, I faced one of my biggest fears and went to see it by myself. Don’t ask me how I can travel the world and move to a completely different continent on my own without batting an eye, but entering a movie theatre solo sent me into panic mode for the 24 hours leading up to showtime!

Seeing this film, matched with finishing a book by Canadian writer Robyn Maynard, entitled Policing Black Lives left me feeling enraged, sad, and hopeless.

This well-written book talks about racism in Canada from slavery to present day. It outlines police brutality against Black people and other minorities (IN CANADA!), the lagging education system, and many other injustices that - somehow - are still present today. For me, this hit home in terms of our immigration system, as it talks quite frankly about how it is still set up to exclude certain parts of the world (namely, the Black ones!) from entering, even though my own experience tells me we, as a country, are losing out on some gifted, hardworking, amazing people who could do incredible things here.

While The Hate U Give might be a bit juvenile for some, it does touch on a growing, but not new problem. It’s a great read, and an important one for younger folks in particular to engage with. The film also does a fairly good job of representing the book, although for time sake, it diverges from the full story. But, it does so in a way that works, and so I walked away from the theatre feeling good overall, and hopefully that it could spark a conversation. Unfortunately, I had hoped it would have created more of an impact, built a bit of controversy, and got media and others talking. I have yet to hear anything, and this makes me sad. And angry.

But, if you want a more adult, it’s time to check your privilege and face reality for a good number of people in THIS country kind of read, then I strongly suggest picking up a copy of Robyn Maynard’s book. I like to think I’m pretty educated and aware of the racial and social injustices within this country, but even I felt like I had much to learn as I turned page after page. This is exactly why it is so important for others to read.

The bottomline for me, though, is that things need to change. I can’t for the life of me understand how we got here and how we continue to remain here. How are we still placing value on skin pigmentation and a person’s place of origin? Whether it’s from a place within Canada or abroad it is mind boggling that we still can’t accept people for things that actually matter - kindness, work ethic, or contribution to community, to name a few. It is amazing that we specifically cater to certain countries instead of others because this country isn’t quite white enough “yet".

There’s a famous saying from the late 1960s, You’ve come along way, baby, that was used to sell cigarettes. It was insinuating that the feminist movement had great made strides - and it had, but there was still a long way to go. To say, in present day, that we’ve made major advances in the racial acceptance category is about as ironic and offensive as that original advertisement is. To suggest that we’ve made a significant difference in the way we treat others that don’t meet the Justin Trudeau-esque quintessential, white Canadian image, not even from a racial perspective - think gender, sexual orientation, religion, level of education or occupation, etc. - is laughable, at best. And it seems, for every step we take forward, we get sucked back a generation or two (Trump-era, anyone?!).

When will we see a day where people are just people? Where our value is evenly assessed? Or where we don’t have to be afraid to “divert” from “the norm”?

End rant. Again.

-the Orange Canadian

Thursday, 8 November 2018

A sad day for Uganda...

Yesterday I received some terrible news - the Isimba Dam Project has finally reached the stage where flooding the reservoir has begun. This may seem inconsequential to you, but for me, and a great many others, this is a day we have all been dreading.

Almost a year and a half ago I wrote an article that was eventually published in IMPOLITIKAL. This  was the first time I had openly spoken about the situation just outside of my former home of Jinja, Uganda. I tried to give a good background of the current scenario, while outlining why the construction of a third hydroelectric dam was bad, not only for Uganda and Ugandans, but for the environment, itself. I, along with others, protested this project to both the Ugandan Government and the World Bank.

Eleven years ago, the World Bank (via the IDA) signed an agreement with the Government to help fund the second dam, but on the condition that it left a specific area alone, as it held both cultural and environmental importance. Nine years later, I watched in horror as the signs of construction became more and more apparent in the exact spot that had been designated as culturally and environmentally protected. Building this dam is effectively an illegal act, and yet, today, I sit staring at my laptop, thinking of those incredible rapids along the magnificent River, while trying to imagine how they must look now.

If the thought of wiping out an entire ecosystem isn’t enough to make you feel angered, maybe the human loss will. The move to build the Isimba dam has put the rafting industry - an industry that draws professional and first-time rafters from all over the world - at risk of ceasing all together. With the rafting industry comes several other tour operators from horseback riding to kayaking to bungee jumping and so much more. It also takes with it numerous hotels, restaurants, and driving services. These are good jobs, that many hardworking, passionate Ugandans have made for themselves and provided to others.

And that’s not all - there’s still all who lost their homes in the flood zone that began filling yesterday. That area alone, where 2000 farms once stood, is now underwater. But that’s not 2000 people, that’s 2000 FARMS with an average of 8-10 people per farm plus any community members that may have worked on or with one of those farms... Land gone. Home gone. Livelihood gone. No compensation. No relocation aid. Nothing. And yet, no one would even know this was happening unless you knew someone directly impacted by this unnecessary decision.

When people ask me why I am so strongly against the World Bank, the United Nations, etc., this is why. They listen when it’s convenient, and look the other way when it’s not. And, all too often I have seen the latter far more than I’ve ever seen the former. All too often the work they claim to be doing is hurting more than its helping. And, its always those in the worst predicaments that tend to lose out.

In December of 2015, I went on my first rafting trip ever. I hated almost every minute of it until the end, when I realized just how incredible that experience was. Little did I know how much that trip would impact the next three years of my life. Little did I know that a single trip down the infamous River Nile would result in lasting friendships, that would continuously keep calling me back.

Flippin’ on the final rapid - affectionately known as Nile Special.
Photo credit: Nalubale Rafting
And although we may have lost this battle, what I want to say to everyone who tried to prevent yesterday's outcome is this - you fought a good fight. You were defeated long before the first words against the dam were spoken, written, filmed, photographed, or screamed at the top of your lungs. The odds were always against you, and yet, you never once wavered. You kept fighting. You kept trying to convince the powers that be that they were wrong. You had people on the inside fighting with you, whether you knew it or not. I am angry and sad and I am so, so very sorry. But I am also proud of all you did. I am proud to call many of you my friends. And I am comforted in knowing that there are still people willing to use their voice to stand up for what’s right, for the voiceless, for the future.

-the Orange Ugandan