Wednesday, January 31, 2007

If this were my virtual reality, I'd at least have a maid!

In the paper this morning, there was an article about this book on the blogosphere. Apparently the author thinks that we (bloggers) are "isolated and lonely, living in a virtual reality instead of forming real relationships or helping to change the world." It gets even better. Blogging is "melancholic and illusionary" and the community of support we find is "not real".

Gee thanks, Mr. Keren, for so glibly dismissing our chosen form of expression and community building.

C'mon though - if this WERE my fantasy world, don'tcha think I could come up with something a little better than this? Not that there's anything wrong with my life, but I'd at least have created a maid. Or even just a laundry slave. And maybe a lovely little cottage in the woods. And a writing career with a nice big fat contract that meant I never had to do a nine-to-fiver ever again.

And another thing - who says community can't be real just because we never see each others' faces? I suppose you think the support we offer each other is inauthentic and "illusionary".

Oh and I just have to ask - what have YOU done to change the world lately? Please tell me so I can toss aside this senseless blogging and follow your lead. I may be wrong, but I don't think writing a book about how pathetic other people are counts for "changing the world".

Maybe you should try blogging for awhile and see if perhaps there is some merit in sharing your thoughts and feelings, getting to know people from other places and other cultures, getting advice on life's dilemnas, getting inspired by how other people are changing their little corners of the world, and practising the art of expressing yourself through the written word.

But what do I know? I'm just a lonely and isolated blogger living in my melancholy virtual reality.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Just sittin' here smilin'

The next time I get one of those letters in the mail that says "thanks for your submission, but we can't use it in our publication at this time";
the next time I tell myself there are so many better things I could do with my time than writing(like doing laundry, for example);
the next time I assume every other writer is better than me and I'm simply wasting my time;

I will remember that Vicki said this of me:

"Her writing has this ability to cut to the core of my person. She can put into words things that only constrict me into a mental breakdown!"

or this:

"She can take the passing thoughts that flutter through our minds and put them down into words that make you say out-loud, 'Yes, how did you know?'"

and I will smile.

Wow! I hardly feel worthy of such high praise, but I will accept it graciously and try to remember that any gifts I have been given are meant to be shared. You are more than welcome to partake - provided you share yours in return!

Thank you Vicki for lifting my spirits in such a beautiful, heartfelt way. Now the rest of you should run on over and visit Vicki, because she's one of those people you will feel almost instantly could become your best friend. I think, if we spent an afternoon together, we'd barely stop laughing long enough to take a bite of that delicious apple cake she makes! (Which reminds me - I have some apples that need to be used soon... hmmm...)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Where have the years gone?

Because all the cool kids are doin' it, I wanted to join the fun and post some pictures of me as a young child. Unfortunately, it turns out that I have only a very limited number of pictures of bygone days in my house. I think it's time to root around in those old cardboard boxes my mom has been moving from old farmhouse to apartment to apartment in the last few years. I need a better selection.

Here's one of my favourite photos. I'm the blonde in the dark stripes and my sister is the cutie-patootie in the light stripes. Apparently we're in the process of mauling my dad. As a hardworking farmer, my dad didn't nearly always have enough time for his kids, but when he gave us his attention, he made sure that at least for those brief moments, it was quality time.

Heather, Cynthia, and Dad

The picture below is of me with my oldest brother (who occasionally shows up in the comments as bbb). Doesn't he look smashing in the bowtie? (And for those who know him, doesn't he look alot like Caleb?) I was apparently fairly attached to that soother and dolly. I suspect it was a ploy to get me to sit still long enough for the Christmas photo. Even though we were fairly poor, Mom loved to dress us well - especially for Christmas. Almost every year, we got a new Christmas outfit. Usually it was something Mom had sewn.

Notice the drywall tape on the wall behind us? For the first seven years of their married life, Mom and Dad lived in an unfinished house. It must have driven my Mom a little crazy. Things didn't get much better either. From there we moved to a tiny farmhouse with only one cold water tap in the kitchen, a strangely named "cash and carry" toilet in the winter and outhouse in the summer, and so little space that when mom and dad went to bed at night on the hide-a-bed in the living room, their feet were in the kitchen. It was another seven years before we moved into a new house on the same farm property. My mom had to put up with A LOT back then! But... we were happy.

Brad & Heather

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sunday six

Six ways to avoid laundry.

1. Play Bingo with your kids.
2. Let your kids convince you that you need to play ONE more round before tackling the laundry mountain.
3. Write a lame blog post about avoiding laundry.
4. Tell yourself it's character building if the kids occasionally need to wear mis-matched socks or scrounge through random piles to find that last pair of threadbare underwear.
5. Phone a friend and commiserate about the never-ending laundry duties.
6. Pretend there's been a restricted quarantine placed on your laundry room and ONLY MOTHERS are not allowed to enter.

Sigh. Okay, so I'm getting tired of wearing the bottom o' the barrel underwear - the kind that slides into places it's not meant to slide - just because I've avoided laundry too long. Self - get thee to the laundry room!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

No entrance


At the rock-hewn churches of Lalibella, where history is so thick it seeps from the walls, I stood outside the holy of holies. By virtue of my gender, I was barred entrance to that most sacred of places.

The men at the door said "no women allowed." I heard "you are unclean. Unworthy."

With some measure of discomfort, the men in our party stepped inside. "We'll report back," they said. "We'll take pictures and show you." Their words hinted at the guilt they carried for being the chosen ones. They didn't want to leave us behind.

Waiting on the outside, we three women made light of the situation. "What if we storm the entrance?" we laughed. "Perhaps if we trip on the doorway and fall into the room..." Kebede, our Ethiopian companion, didn't take it so lightly. "They will stone you," he said, his face reflecting the seriousness of the offense. "Or beat you with their sticks." All of the priests in this place carried long staffs with silver or gold crosses on top. I imagined those crosses smashing down on our backs.

In this foreign country, it was not my place to challenge history. I stayed outside.

Twinges of memory poked at my consciousness - my own history ringing in my ears. "You cannot read the Bible in church. You are a woman." "You cannot be class president. You are a woman." Each time I heard the words flung like stones - "You are unclean. Unworthy."

I looked down at my bare feet on the stones worn smooth from centuries of worshippers. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that these feet could walk on holy ground. I knew that these feet were no less worthy than the feet of those inside the holiest of rooms. After years of stones, I had learned to hold my head up high and believe the truth of "neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female."

I am woman. I am worthy. I can only put my faith in a God who tore the veil of the holy of holies and welcomed me to step over the threshold. "You are worthy," he/she whispered in my waiting ear. "Come and be clean."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

On the radio

If you'd like to hear a radio interview I did together with Steve Bell, go here and click on "Steve Bell in Ethiopia".

Monday, January 22, 2007

The stunning scenery of Ethiopia

For lack of coherent thought, I give you a few more pictures...

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Still recuperating

Yes, I made it home safe and sound on Wednesday night - a little later than anticipated (I missed my last flight and ended up re-routed), but home nonetheless. As I unpacked that evening, I immediately repacked in order to head out to a staff retreat the very next morning. I was too busy for jet lag to set in until Friday night, when it hit me with a resounding wallup as I tried to watch a movie at my Mom's house.

Over the weekend, I tried to find enough time and energy for my family, and then Sunday night I did a radio interview together with Steve Bell (which I believe will eventually be posted online here). Then today I had to facilitate an all-day workshop.

In other words, I haven't really stopped moving since I got home. It's all been good stuff and not terribly overwhelming, but I'm a little tired. Tomorrow's my first "routine" day at work - I may drift off to sleep by the middle of the afternoon.

No, I haven't had time to visit any of you or catch up on your blogs. I may NEVER catch up. If there's anything important that you feel I MUST read, you'll have to let me know, or else I'll probably just start from scratch when I get a few spare moments to surf.

But now, before they think I've abandoned them entirely, I'm going to make some puffed wheat squares with my kids. At least it's not labour intensive, nor does it require alot of thought. I can handle that.

By the way, if you're interested in a day-to-day journal of the trip (which I haven't gotten around to doing yet), Steve Bell is in the process of posting one on his blog.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Faces of Ethiopia

Face 1
Face 2
Face 3
Face 4
Face 5
Face 6
And here's the face of someone who's going home...
Going home from Ethiopia

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Going home

Tonight at 7:30, I’ll leave for the airport for the long trek home.

I’m ready to go home. I’m ready to throw my arms around my family. I’m ready to be in familiar places. I’m ready to be smiled at by familiar faces. I’m ready to sleep in my own bed curled up next to my husband. I’m ready to stroll down familiar streets without being branded “rich tourist”.

I look forward to that familiar moment when I walk down the stairs at the Winnipeg airport and I catch sight of my family in the crowd. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you’re grinned at by people who miss you – people who are eager for you to be back in their lives again.

Today I took one last walk down the streets of Addis Ababa. I did a little more shopping at a lovely store that’s as cheap as anything I’ve bartered for in the market and a lot more peaceful. When you’re not used to it, the marketplace can be an overwhelming place. I get a bit of a thrill out of it for awhile – everyone trying to sell you things while you make a sport out of getting the cheapest price. I’m actually fairly good at bartering (for a foreigner, that is), but I get tired of it after the initial buzz. Today I just wanted to know the price, pay it, and walk out with what I paid for. Today I didn’t want to let my white skin paint me as a “rich tourist with lots of money to burn on trinkets”.

Of course, walking to the store (which is about a kilometer from my hotel) still meant that I had to suffer as a target for awhile. Street vendors and beggars spotted me from a mile away. Even the fellow who’d taken me to the market last week (and extracted a handsome price for it, I might add) showed up for a second round, but I turned him down this time because I knew where I was going and didn’t want to pay an escort to get me there.

It can be completely exhausting, having to say “no” to every child that says “sista,” while they hold their hand out pleadingly, and “no thank you” to every person trying to sell you a map of Africa, a packet of tissue, or a pair of cheap sunglasses. I’m sure I said no 50 times on the way to the store. I made sure I had a bit of change in my pocket, but I only gave it away when there were few people around and I could target one mother nursing a baby in the dirt next to the sidewalk. I can afford to give a few Birr away, but I can’t give to everyone I see.

Poverty sucks. It sucks that there isn’t more balance in the world. It sucks that so many people are reduced to begging while we live in our comfortable homes. It sucks that I can’t solve it by handing out a few pennies to begging children on the street. It sucks that the world is such an imbalanced place where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

After buying my last souvenirs, I took a cab home. My energy had been drained and I didn’t want to face it anymore. I didn’t want to have to look into the faces of the people who send their children across the street to beg from me because the children have the most chance of working on my sympathies.

This afternoon, before I leave for the airport, I will seek refuge in my hotel. I will walk around the lush grounds, sealed off from the poverty perched just outside the walls. I will try not to feel guilty for enjoying this pleasure, because I know that I cannot solve the problems of Ethiopia, even if I walk outside the walls and give away every dollar I own.

When I go home, I will remember this place both for its breathtaking beauty and its gut-wrenching poverty.

Monday, January 15, 2007

With love, from Ethiopia

It’s early Monday morning. At home, it’s Sunday night, and most people are settling down to sleep for the night. I’m sitting at my window, back at the Ghion Hotel in Addis Ababa. Just outside my window are the thatched roofs of the restaurant and meeting areas. On the other side of the largest roof is a massive tree with brilliant purple flowers exploding from its branches. A little closer to me, there’s a smaller tree with pale pink blossoms. A few birds float leisurely past my window.

After a long journey, I have a day of rest today. As I begin to process all that I have seen in the last week, I will take the time to soak in the sun’s rays, let the colours of the flowers refresh me, and try to breathe in enough of the warm air to sustain me through the remainder of the cold winter that faces me when I get back home.

I will write more about this past week’s journey over the coming weeks, but for now, let me tell you about some of the highlights:

Incredible scenery. Ethiopia is a beautiful country. Did you know that? Or were you like me and when someone mentions Ethiopia you think of “famine”, “drought”, “drylands”, and possibly fighting? I had no idea how much breathtaking beauty we would see. For most of the time on the road, we traveled through mountainous regions, on winding roads, up to the top of mountain peaks and then down to the bottom of the valleys. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful much of the scenery was. I will post pictures once I have access to a faster internet connection.

People. We met hundreds and hundreds of people, and most of them were so warm and friendly it was somewhat humbling. People invited us into their homes, cooked for us, gave up their beds for us, and worked hard to ensure that our journey was pleasurable. Many of the people we met were concerned that we should leave Ethiopia with a positive impression, and I believe that all of us did. It can be a little overwhelming when, every time you stop the vehicle, you are surrounded by hoards of people (especially children) who want to greet you, smile at you, practice their English on you, and (especially in the poorer regions) ask for pens or Birrs (the local currency), or “Highland” (which meant they wanted our empty water bottles), but there is a hospitality and openness here that makes our reserved North American ways seem somewhat cold.

History. I had no idea how connected this place was to history and how much it means to the people here. We visited the rock-hewn churches of Lalibella, and about all I can say is WOW! I’ll write more about that another day, because it had a fairly profound impact on me, but for now, if you have some time, Google it and you’ll see a few pictures that hardly do it justice but at least give you some idea what we saw. In the twelfth century, King Lalibella felt called by God to carve 11 churches out of solid rock. It took 23 years and thousands of labourers, but the effort is monumental and astonishing.

Simplicity. About 95 per cent of the people in Ethiopia live in houses that we would call “primitive”, with thatched or tin roofs and mud or stone walls. They are tiny and the ones we visited had fewer material goods inside the whole house than we have in our front entrance. Sometimes, that just feels heavy - that the level of poverty here is almost unbearable. But sometimes, it feels refreshing – that these people who smile at us with such broad and welcoming smiles, know more about joy than many of us do with our houses full of material possessions.

Commitment. We visited 2 projects funded by the Foodgrains Bank (I’ll write more about that on my work blog), and both are staffed by some of the most incredible, gifted, and strong individuals I have met. These are mostly young people (between twenty and thirty-five) who have given up the comforts of their homes to live in remote, isolated regions because they believe in their country and its people and they want to see positive change. Elizabeth was one of the most noteworthy – she is a gifted young woman who is only 23 years of age and is living in the very remote Afar region where she leads a team of about 70-80 people (mostly men) in a remarkable water diversion project that is changing the lives of many people.

This morning, we said good-bye to Steve and Nancy, and tonight I say good-bye to Larry. Tomorrow night I’ll be on a plane headed for home. There are so many things I still want to write, but I still want to enjoy the few hours I still have left here, so I will walk away from the computer and soak in what I still can.

By the way – did anyone get a postcard? I sent out 20 of them last weekend, so they should arrive some time this week.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

In Bahar Dar, by Lake Tana

"Salam!" I'm not sure if I'm spelling it right, but that's how you say hello in Amharic, the local language of Ethiopia. We're having an amazing time here.

Our journey across the countryside is nearing an end. The first members of our group (Jim & Sharon) are leaving this afternoon to fly to Addis Ababa and then home. The rest of the group will drive to Addis tomorrow and then we will prepare to go our separate ways shortly after that.

It has been an incredible week. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity not only to see some amazing countryside and to meet incredible people here, but also to travel with a remarkable team of people. It has definitely been a "God thing", pulling some very gifted people together for this trip.

I don't have much time to write now, but I wanted to let everyone know that we are safe and happy, the journey has been a success so far, and we have fallen in love with Ethiopia. We have all commented how incredibly beautiful this country is - much more beautiful than we could have imagined. We have seen vistas that rival the Alps, the Grand Canyon, and the Rocky Mountains. We have met amazing people who are committed to helping their people and building their country into the place it has the potential to be. We have been blessed.

My heart is so full of the wonders I have seen. I will write much more about this, but for now, I want to live in the moment and enjoy a lovely hotel with a great view. Talk to you soon!


Friday, January 05, 2007


Wow! My heart is full of the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of Ethiopia. So full, I feel almost ready to burst. It’s been a good – very good – day.

This morning, when I awoke from a surprisingly good sleep (that homeopathic “no jetlag” pill that Stu gave me seems to have worked!) I realized that, as much as I love stepping off the airplane (or train or car) in a new country, even more than that I like waking up in one. The first day is often a little overwhelming in its intensity. Everything feels foreign – you don’t know who to trust, you don’t know how to catch a cab, you don’t know how to say “no thank you” to the dozens of people who want you to buy their wares, and you don’t even have a familiar room to hide in when the unfamiliarity gets to be too much. On top of that, you’re suffering from jetlag or just plain tiredness from traveling, and your emotions feel a little close to the surface.

By the next morning, however, if you’re lucky enough to have had a good night’s sleep, the world looks full of possibilities and promise. By then, there is some safety in the room where you’ve laid your head, you’ve had a brief opportunity to learn some of the crucial cultural do’s and don’ts, and you feel so much more prepared to see the foreignness as opportunity rather than obstacle.

This morning, I ventured out onto the streets alone. I’d been told that there was a market within walking distance, and I headed in that direction. As soon as I’d set foot outside of the hotel complex, however, I was joined by Solomon, who told me he worked at the hotel laundry and was out for a stroll and wondered if he could join me. Having had enough experience traveling in places similar to this one in the past, I knew that Solomon’s interest in joining me was not strictly for a friendly stroll. I wasn’t sure what he was after, but I had a pretty good hunch he would offer to show me the sights, maybe help me find my way to the market, and then hope to be paid for his efforts. At first, I was wary, but after chatting with him for awhile, I decided to trust him to help me find my way. After all, it seemed easier to navigate the streets with a local person at my side than alone. At least with him beside me, it was easier to say no to beggars, enterprising salespeople, and/or people offering a taxi or bus ride.

That’s one of the things I have a hard time getting used to in developing countries – especially in the cities. Because of the lack of employment and the intensity of poverty, people have to become resourceful in order to support themselves and their families. Some turn to begging and many hock their wares wherever they can find a willing customer. A white person – particularly one walking alone and looking distinctly like a visitor – is a prime target. Everywhere you go, someone is hoping you’ll be willing to part with your money. Walk down a short street, and you’ll be approached by small children with sob stories about their parents both being dead as well as several dozen people wanting to sell you paintings or crafts or fruit or any number of things. Most of them are quite aggressive too – following you down the street and insisting that you stop. In areas where poverty is particularly intense, you see a desperation in their eyes. I find it rather exhausting. I suppose if you lived here, you’d become somewhat immune to it, but in my short visits, it often feels overwhelming.

Anyway – back to Solomon, my personal guide to the market place. He was very pleasant, and he told me many stories of Addis Ababa and himself. If his story is truthful (and I have no reason to believe it’s not, but some of it might have been a story to get me to trust him and be generous to him), he’s studying to be an artist. While he studies, he does laundry at the hotel. But they don’t pay him - they only provide food and lodging. He has a girlfriend, but he cannot marry her until he has a steady income and her family is satisfied that he can provide for her.

Solomon took me to what he called the “student market”. Apparently, the handicrafts sold there raise money to support the student artists who make them. He showed me some of his paintings, and I liked one of them enough to buy it. I also bought some beautiful silver jewelry. Oh my! There is so much beautiful local art, jewelry and textiles! I could come home with a boat-load!

We didn’t make it past that store (since I already spent more money than I’d planned to today). When we were done there, he took me back to the hotel aboard the most common local transportation – a small bus/van that they pack full of so many people it feels like the sides will burst open. When we parted, I was a little surprised at the amount of money he asked for – I gave him a lower sum which was still VERY generous. Not surprisingly, we parted ways before reaching the hotel. I suspect he doesn’t actually work for the hotel, but that he used that bit of information to get me to trust him.

For lunch, I had my first serving of injera, the local food. It’s a pancake-like bread that they put a variety of stews and sauces on and you tear a piece off to wrap around the bite of food you want to eat. I quite like it, though I’m horribly messy and use up a lot of napkins.

After lunch, Azeb, the administrative assistant at our Ethiopian office, picked me up to give me a tour of the city. First we drove up Entoto (sp?) mountain where there is a museum, St. Mary’s church, and the rather plain palace of a former emperor. We hired a tour guide and took a tour of the buildings and grounds. One thing I’ve learned fairly quickly is that Ethiopia is steeped in ancient history that dates back to Biblical times, and the people feel a great pride for their history. Everyone talks about the Queen of Sheba, who gave birth to one of King Solomon’s sons who grew up and took the Ark of the Covenant away from Israel and carried it to Ethiopia. Apparently, the Ark is still here in Ethiopia, though no one is ever allowed to see it anymore.

After the mountain (which was a bit of an interesting, steep, white-knuckle climb) we visited the cathedral. The orthodox church is very strong in Ethiopia. Depending on who you talk to, either 60 or 80 percent of Ethiopians are Christians, and of those, 90 percent are Orthodox. The other 20 to 40 percent are Islamic. While we were at the cathedral, worship was in process, so we got to sit and watch and listen to the worship. Most of the service, including the reading of the holy book, is done in a melodic, sing-song voice that sounds somewhat like the Islamic call to prayer. It was quite moving sitting there in a beautiful church listening to the people worship.

Azeb brought me back to the hotel, and I went down to the restaurant for supper. Though I usually enjoy eating alone when I travel, after a few days of it, I was feeling rather lonely tonight. After 2 full intense days, I really wanted someone to talk to and share my food with. But I had no-one, so once again, I ate alone. I was beginning to wish that, instead of a hotel I’d stayed at a guest house where people tend to eat together and have more communal spaces in which to strike up conversations.

Just as I was eating my fruit salad for dessert, God must have decided to answer the prayer I didn’t really pray, and sent some people to keep me company. What a pleasant surprise! First I chatted with a young girl whose precociousness made me lonesome for Maddie. Then I struck up a conversation with her mom. Frey grew up in Ethiopia but moved to Portland 10 years ago. This was her first visit back to Ethiopia since she left. She was dining with her brother Samson who still lives in Ethiopia. Recognizing that I might be lonely, they invited me to eat with them. I carried my dessert over to their table, and very quickly knew that I’d found just the right friendly, gracious people to take the edge off my loneliness. They were so gracious in fact, that they not only paid for my meal, but invited me to join them at a local night club where we could see cultural dancing and music.

We shared a bottle of wine at the Dos Abyssimia and it proved to be a magical evening. We watched the dancing and enjoyed comfortable conversation. Little Helen danced for us, and before long, fell asleep in her mother’s lap. We ate lamb goulash (once again with injera), and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to pass the evening. They wouldn't let me pay for the wine but once again insisted on treating me. It was their way of welcoming me into their country, they said.

Wow! What hospitality! It makes me want to search out lonely foreigners visiting my country and make them feel as welcome as I was made to feel tonight. Unfortunately, in North America, we’re too often wary of strangers and not often enough open and gracious.

After a full day, I look forward to another good night’s sleep. As I lay my head down tonight, most of you are in the middle of your day. It’s eleven thirty here, but at home, it’s 2:30 in the afternoon.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Made it!

I'm sitting in my room at the Ghion Hotel in Addis Ababa. It 6:20 in the evening, but my brain still tells me it's 9:21 in the morning and that I just missed a full night of sleep. I'm exhausted. If I start to slur my words, forgive me. I don't want to go to sleep just now, though. I'm trying to fight it off until at least 9:00 so I can get a decent night's sleep and try to adjust to this time zone.

Dusk is settling in. Just outside my massive window, there are towering trees and brightly coloured flowers. They've just turned on the lanterns along the footpath. It's quite a beautiful view. The hotel grounds are quite magnificent.

So far, things are going well. I got in early this morning after another long flight. I didn't sleep well on that flight - mostly because I was frickin' cold the whole time. Those thin blankets they give you on planes just don't do much to fight the chill.

I had a short nap when I got to my room, and then Kebede, our Ethiopian consultant picked me up to take me to the Ministry of Information where we applied for our film permit. For a few scary moments, it looked like it would be touch and go because I'd gotten a tourist visa instead of a business visa. But it looks like they're going to let it pass. We have to pick it up tomorrow. Navigating the bureaucracy is challenging in ANY country, but it's multiplied when you're in a developing country and they're speaking a foreign language. Thank God for Kebede who's an old pro at working the system around here!

I have a reasonably good dial-up connection at the hotel, so I may be able to post once or twice before we hit the road on Monday. Tomorrow - SHOPPING! I've already seen some nice souvenirs I've got my eyes on.

Unfortunately, my joy at being here is tinged with a bit of sadness. The first email I opened when I turned on the computer was one from Marcel with the subject line "sad news". Of course, it was with some trepidation that I opened it. Sadly, a close family friend - my best childhood friend Julie's dad - was killed in a car accident. I feel a little sick with sadness that I can't be there for Julie during this time. She was there for me (and my mom) when my dad died and now I really wish I could return the favour. I know how it feels to be punched in the gut with the sudden death of a parent.

Time to head to the dining room for supper. Talk to you soon!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Posting out of sheer boredom

Ethiopia trip - Jan 3 001
All of those departure times and not one of them is mine! I still have four hours to wait. It’s been about five so far. I’m getting bored. I’ve wandered every corner of the departure lounge about 5 times. Ask me where to buy a new tie, a digital camera, or a fashion magazine in the Frankfurt airport – I’ll find it for you in less than 5 minutes. That’s just how bored I am.

I can’t find a comfortable chair to curl up with a good book. There are very few chairs in the departure area. I guess they expect everyone to check in first BEFORE relaxing. The problem is, I had to collect my luggage and then re-check in, but the check-in counter doesn’t open until a few hours before the flight, so I’m stuck with a cart full of luggage and nowhere to go. At first I thought I’d have to wait until check-in to go pee (can you bring a luggage cart into the washroom?) but then I got desperate enough and found a handicap washroom with enough room for the cart. Whew! Relief!

Let me tell you about some of the sites in the Frankfurt airport….

Did you know that God owns a store here?
Ethiopia trip - Jan 3 002
And I guess, when they’re serving booze out of the back of a car, they’re not too worried about drinking and driving.
Ethiopia trip - Jan 3 003
I love the way staff around here get around – on bicycles.
Ethiopia trip - Jan 3 011
And this is how I look after two flights and several hours of boredom.
Ethiopia trip - Jan 3 007
Let me tell you, though, they may have been long flights, but MAN was I pampered. I think I have officially been spoiled for regular economy class travel. I was in business class on both flights, and there is nothing quite like reclining in your huge easy chair, sipping champagne, while the commoners file past to the cheap seats in the back! Before we’d even taken off from Toronto, they’d brought champagne, blankets, pillows, a toiletry kit, water bottles, and promises of MUCH more. Sipping tea out of REAL teacups and washing your hands with warm towels is DA BOMB! I’m going to have a hard time downgrading to the cattle class on my flight to Ethiopia.

Trust me, though, I didn’t CHOOSE business class. I booked late and there was nothing else available. I’d feel more than just a little guilty working for a non-profit organization, flying to a developing country to visit people with not enough food to eat, and opting for business class!

Oh – and if you think I’ll post this often when I reach Ethiopia – sorry, I don’t expect so. It will be much harder there, with little or no connection.

By the way, since I’m also blogging for work, I saved my deep thoughts for this post.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

On the way

Delayed. My flight has been delayed by more than two hours. Sigh. I’m sitting in the Toronto airport. I’m supposed to be on a flight bound for Frankfurt, leaving in twenty five minutes, but instead I will sit here for an extra two hours and hope that the crew, currently stuck in Montreal, will make it here soon.

Fortunately, I have lots of time to spare in Frankfurt before catching my connection to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Unless something goes seriously wrong I should make it.

As I sit here, I recognize the now-familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach – a healthy dose of excitement, mixed with a small measure of guilt. I love hopping on airplanes and heading off on adventures, but when I kiss my family good-bye and they stand there on the other side of the security barricade fighting the tears, I feel a little sick to my stomach. Is it okay to say goodbye to them for two weeks? Am I a bad mother for occasionally putting my dreams and my career ahead of my kids? Will they hate me for this and grow up damaged by my occasional disappearance?

I know I will miss them, but I also know that they will miss me more. It’s always harder being the one left at home. I will have enough adventure and excitement to keep me from intense loneliness, but they have only the ordinariness of daily routine. They will feel the absence of Mommy every single day.

Don’t get me wrong though – the guilt is never strong enough to make me reconsider my life and my choices. I love what I do and I will continue to do it, despite the occasional spasm of guilt for leaving now and then. In the end, I know that the opportunity to fulfill my wanderlust once in awhile makes me a better mother because it makes me happier. And a happier mom makes for happier kids.

Switching topics (because I can only talk about Mommy guilt for so long before I get distracted by more interesting things), I had a delightful conversation on the flight from Winnipeg to Toronto. I don’t always chat with people on airplanes – usually I relish the opportunity to sit quietly with my own thoughts and read or watch a movie. But since I have lots of flying ahead of me, I didn’t mind sharing a couple of hours with an interesting seat-mate. Tom, my flying companion, is a pilot who was on his way home after a shift. He’s in the process of moving from Halifax to Winnipeg.

He had lots of stories to tell, but the best one was about the time he flew for a skydiving company. Just as I discovered when I went skydiving, he said jump instructors are often cut from the same cloth. They’re adrenaline junkies who love to party, and they often portray the same persona as surfer dudes. At the company where he was working, they had an annual tradition of doing a nude group jump. On one of these events, a storm was beginning to blow in, and he said he wasn’t sure they could do the jump. But the flight instructors kept pushing him to fly them up despite the approaching clouds. So he did, but insisted they get out of the plane a little earlier then planned because he wanted to make it back to the ground before the storm arrived. Just as he was landing, the storm arrived, and two of the jumpers got blown way off course. They landed two miles away from the hanger, in a plowed corn field. There they were, in the middle of a muddy field, buck naked with the rain pouring down on them. They hiked to the nearest road, wrapped their chutes around them, and tried to hitch a ride. Not surprisingly, no one stopped to pick up the muddy, bedraggled, naked skydivers. Eventually, they were found by one of their partners who’d gone in search of them. Since then, I’m sure they’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of THAT story!

Yay! I just found a spot in the terminal with wireless! At first I'd have to post this from Frankfurt, but now I can get it online sooner. For you, my dear readers, I searched for a connection so that you wouldn't have to wonder for a moment longer "where's Heather at?"

By the way, isn't an airport just the most fascinating place to people-watch? I just sat in the cafe watching a young woman have a vicious fight with her lover. She spoke French, but there were enough English swear words and hand gestures thrown in that I could catch the drift. I often marvel at people's comfort level on cell phones - do they REALLY not mind that anyone can listen in on their personal intimate moments?

Oh - they're calling for pre-boarding on my flight - gotta go! Catch up with you soon!