Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Thirteen things I don't want to forget

Is it Thursday today? I'm really not sure, but in case it is, here are thirteen things I don't want to forget about this trip.

1. The little girl in Barguna who followed me around grinning and reciting her new English words "We are all connected."

2. The giggling little girl in the low caste Musahar village where no on else smiled for the first hour of our visit.

3. Sitting on the boat, listening to the drumbeats along the shore.

4. Children running through the village covered in paint from the Holi festival.

5. The woman who proudly showed us her sewing machine and ner new sewing skills.

6. Those moments in airports when we were greeted by our hosts and I could relax because the planning had been successful and nobody's wires had been crossed.

7. The relief of two exceptionally good camera men.

8. Rickshaw rides.

9. Darting through chaotic traffic and emerging alive on the other side.

10. Standing at the top of ferry boats and watching other boats go by.

11. Sleeping in a clean guest house after too many nights of bed bugs and dirty sheets.

12. All that lovely fabric coming home in my luggage.

13. Flower petals thrown by giggling school children.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Battered but not broken

On November 15, these children and their families lived through Cyclone Sidr. Winds of up to 250 kilometres and a wall of water about thirty feet high wiped out their homes, their livestock, their food, their fishing boats, and in some cases, their family members.
The cyclone hit at 9:30 at night. After dark. Those who could stay afloat searched frantically in the murky water for their loved ones. Some of the bodies were later found hanging from the treetops.
As we walked down the road, more than one person stopped to motion to me. They wanted me to understand the water washed right over the road. Right up to the treetops. Some pointed to corrugated metal from their houses still hanging in the trees.
Their stories will stick with me for a long time. So will the smiles of these resilient children.
Tomorrow we go to India and leave the beautiful people of Bangladesh behind.

Monday, March 17, 2008


We made it to Dhaka, Bangladesh! Most of the little hurdles have been crossed succesfully. We still don't know if we'll get into India, but I'll leave that worry for another day.

The people of Bangladesh have been incredibly hospitable and gracious. We have been warmly welcomed here.

Now here's hoping I'll sleep well tonight and tomorrow I'll no longer feel quite so much like my body's been dragged through a meat grinder. Arriving at 2:00 a.m. after 24 hours in transit is pretty exhausting.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Catch ya on the flip side

I'm going to Bangladesh. There are still some fairly major hurdles to cross, but I'm going.

In the meantime, though, I've gotta go play My Little Pony, the board game, with Maddie. She's been attached to my hip all morning - trying to get the most Mommy time she can.

I probably won't blog much, but I'll tell you all about it when I return.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ongoing saga

Complication #542 - Though I can now go to the first faraway country, our new cameraperson (from the second faraway country) may not be able to enter the country. (Not just a minor inconvenience when your whole purpose of traversing the globe is to produce a film.)

I don't think I'm exagerating when I say it's the 542nd complication. Seriously. I started planning this trip in January, and nothing has gone smoothly. Absolutely nothing. When the dust settles, I'll write a long list of all the things that have gone wrong and I'll most certainly bore you all to tears.

Today, every time I open yet ANOTHER email with bad news, I find myself laughing hysterically. It's about all I can do. I'm way past Murphy's law by now.

Somehow, I must convince my brain that I really AM leaving for the other side of the world in 2 days. Somehow, I have to start getting at least marginally excited about it. How do you turn a knot of stress - that feels like it's the beginning of an ulcer - into a flutter of excited energy? How do you begin to pack for a trip you haven't been able to convince yourself you're actually taking?

Some of my colleagues are thinking of posting a "will Heather REALLY arrive at her destination?" guessing pool on the website. The winner gets a free t-shirt. Or an expired airline ticket.

Here's hoping my luck begins to change the moment I step on a plane. Provided I actually get ON the plane and don't get run over by it.

Monday, March 10, 2008

How do you spell S.T.R.E.S.S?

10:30 this morning
- 4 passports mysteriously lost in the mail/courier (yes, for those who are paying attention, AGAIN!)
- 1 possible tracking number (for the missing package with the passports) that doesn’t reveal anything was shipped
- 1 possible tracking number that shows a package was delivered to an undisclosed address in Toronto (but is it MY package with MY passport?)
- 0 people who can tell me where the package was sent
- 0 people in a particular consulate who will show any form of compassion or cooperation (or even answer the phone most days)
- 5 non-refundable airline tickets to 2 faraway countries – departure date 5 days away
- 1 camera person withdrawn from the film project (1 of the 5 non-refundable airline tickets)
- 1 possible camera person to be hired sight-unseen from one of the faraway countries
- 0 visas for 2 countries
- 1 film permit for 1 of 2 countries
- 5 days left to obtain visas, finish writing film script, pack, pray that passports arrive and film permits and visa applications are approved, sign contract with unknown camera person, make sure the family has clean laundry, get money in the necessary currency… oh, I’d better stop before I depress myself

3:30 this afternoon
- 1 less item of stress on above list. The passports have arrived in our office (I nearly kissed them) and are now on their way to the OTHER consulate (the one that knows something about customer service - the one that approved our film permit and promises visas before our departure date)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

I sat in the parking lot, working up the nerve to go inside. Could I do this? Could I really make a change this big? More importantly, could I stick with it? “God,” I whispered, “if this body really is your temple, you’re going to have to help me treat it that way.” I opened the car door and walked across the parking lot.

“I want to sign up for a membership,” I told the girl behind the desk – quickly, before I could lose my nerve. “Here’s a list of the classes you can join,” she said, after I’d filled out the necessary paperwork and handed her a cheque. “There are lots of choices of times for aerobics classes, step classes, yoga, etc. Or if you prefer, you can just use the machines and weights. What time of day do you think you’ll be coming in?” “Six o’clock in the morning,” I said, gulping a little at my bravado. “Really?” that other little voice whispered in my head. “You REALLY think you can get up that early in the morning to go to the gym? Ha! You’ve gotta be kidding!”

Trying to ignore the pessimist in my brain, I set two goals for myself. Lose at least 30 pounds by my birthday (in May), and run the 2.6 mile super-run with Nikki at the marathon in June.

That was January 21st. In the seven weeks since, I’ve been at the gym at least six mornings a week – usually at six o’clock in the morning. At least forty-two times, I’ve proved the pessimist wrong.

As of this morning, I have lost 11 pounds. And just this morning I ran 2.6 miles on the treadmill without stopping. If you’re not an overweight, out-of-shape over-forty-year-old, you might not know just how good that feels. Just believe me when I say it’s so SO good.

Even better? It turns out that I LOVE going to the gym. Really love it. Crazy, eh? I look forward to it so much that I often consider going in the evening too. And on the rare weekend morning when I have to miss because of a soccer game or a trip to the airport, I’m disappointed.

Other than riding my bike in the summer and chasing after small children, I’ve done very little exercise in the twelve years that I’ve been a mom. I haven’t been a member of a gym since back in my single days. I really didn’t expect to enjoy this. I thought it would be pure torture every single day, and after a month or so of subjecting myself to torture just because I’d paid for it and didn’t want to waste the money, I’d drop out.

But – surprise, surprise – it’s not torture. Sure it’s tough, and I’m not too fond of dragging my tired body out of bed that early. But mostly it’s delightful. It’s delightful walking the three blocks to get there in the crisp quiet morning air. (Yes, I’m lucky it’s so close.) It’s delightful pushing my body to new limits. It’s delightful feeling the pain of the last push of adrenaline at the end of the workout. It’s delightful getting to know some of the other women who are mostly very much like me at a small homey neighbourhood gym. It’s especially delightful stepping into a warm shower afterwards and letting the water wash the sweat from my body.

I keep expecting the novelty will wear off (there goes that pessimist again). It hasn’t.

What surprises me the most is just how spiritual it feels to be pounding out my footprints on the treadmill or flexing my muscles on the weight machines. With my music playing in my ears, it feels like meditation – like prayer. Even a little like communion. It feels like God really is visiting this humble temple.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

My new son

My new friend Pugeni has taken to calling me "Mom". Umm... that would have made me TWELVE when I gave birth to him. I think it must be a sign of respect in his culture to call an older woman Mom. I don't mind. He's a good son. :-)

He's left us for the west. I'll miss him. He inspired me in ways that will stick with me for a long, long time.

While he was here, I took him to visit the snow sculptures. They completely dumbfounded him. "People do this for RECREATION? In the FREEZING COLD? And then it all melts in the Spring?" Too puzzling for him to comprehend.
He left me with a present. A bar of soap. "This is what the rich people use in Zimbabwe." It probably cost him a fortune - especially in a country in which the economic situation is so unstable they can rarely get milk in the markets, let alone soap. (Their inflation rate is 150,000 percent. Yes, that's really FOUR zeros. He says that it's increasing so rapidly, the price of a carton of milk can go up in the time it takes to carry it to the cash register.)
He can probably never afford to buy a bar of this kind of soap for his wife, and yet he brought one for me. I feel completely humbled by it. (And I felt a little guilty remembering how I'd so callously unwrapped a bar of Dove so he could have a shower that morning.) I haven't decided whether to leave it in its wrapper on my bathroom counter to remind myself how privileged I am, or to lather up every day in honour of him. ("I'll feel like a rich woman," I said to him when he gave it to me.)

Some day, I want to go to Zimbabwe to visit him.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Embarrassed by riches

I think every North American should have the opportunity to host someone from a developing country in their home at least once in their lifetime. It's delightful to watch the wonder in their eyes, and humbling to see the shock.

Pugeni is visiting from Zimbabwe. Today was his first full day in a country outside of Southern Africa. There were many firsts for him today - the first sight of snow ("wow - I had no idea it would cover EVERYTHING! And you can walk on it!"), the first visit to a Canadian church, the first trip to a North American grocery store with shelves overflowing with abundance, the first Slurpee (my kids were determined he needed that experience), the first time bundled up in layers of jackets, gloves and a hat (while the rest of us celebrated the relatively lovely weather by walking around in unzipped jackets) - the list goes on and on. By the end of the day, he looked completely overwhelmed with the newness of it all.

Pugeni's life is so much different than ours. He is thrilled to be visiting Canada, but he can hardly comprehend all that he is seeing. "You can get milk every day from the store? In Zimbabwe, we rarely have milk available anymore." "These vegetables you're serving for lunch - this is what the rich people eat in Zimbabwe." "I think people in Canada like to drive big cars. And so many of them drive alone." "It seems like people here really like to eat." "Everything is so CHEAP here! You mean you can buy batteries for FOUR dollars?!" "You have it so GOOD here!"

The most humbling of his comments was his response to our house - a house that by North American standards in very modest (and about half of the square footage of an average-sized house). More than once, he mentioned how big our house is. That was even before he'd seen it all. There was a look of shock on his face when I took him downstairs to the family room where I'd prepared a bed for him. "You have ANOTHER room down here?" he asked, incredulously. "My, your house is SO BIG!" And then he spotted our second computer. "You have computers everywhere!"

I started to feel embarrassed about the abundance I was now noticing as I looked around the house and glimpsed it through his eyes. Two rooms full of comfortable couches to sit on. Two tables for people to eat at. Two bathrooms. Shelves and shelves of books. Electric lights to brighten every room. More clothes than we can fit in our closets. A pantry and freezer full of food. Abundance beyond his wildest imagination.

He told us a story of a time when he'd been visiting Botswana. He'd traveled to the local market and had been so surprised to see the availability of meat that he'd bought 7 pounds of it, quite certain that he'd lucked out and visited the market on a rare day when meat was readily available. When he'd arrived back at the house of his host, proud of his wealth of meat, his host had laughed at him and said "but there's ALWAYS meat at the market - we could just buy more tomorrow!" Living in Zimbabwe, where the economy is deteriorating on almost a daily basis, he'd grown accustomed to the scarcity of precious food like meat and oil.

After lunch today, I was glad that Pugeni was out of the kitchen when I loaded the dishwasher. Suddenly I felt embarrassed by the ease of my lifestyle, where water flows freely into a machine that does my dishes for me.

Pugeni is sleeping now, in my "luxurious" basement. Ironically, he almost didn't stay with us, because I usually don't think we have enough room for overnight guests (after all - they have to sleep in the family room because we don't have a spare bedroom). How could I ever think that, with all of this space? Why do I still always want more? Why have I never noticed just how much food is sitting on our pantry shelves? Why do I worry about my ratty furniture and stained carpets?

I hope I remember the look on Pugeni's face the next time I wish my house were just a little bit bigger.