Looking back at 1966

This week I had a friend, Lorna Harris, send me photos that were taken in June 1966 at my family’s cottage near Goderich, Ontario. She found them tucked between the pages of an old book she was preparing for a garage sale this week. We were both 18 at the time and had just completed first year at UWO. While hippies were smoking dope and drinking coffee in the Yorkville District of Toronto, here I was, a skinny teenager, shivering in the river; she, a coy young woman blowing bubbles on the lawn.

Looking at these photos, I wondered what else was happening in 1966? Not that the bubbles and the rapids weren’t enough to keep me intrigued.

Prime Minister of Canada in 1966.

Lester B. Pearson was the Prime Minister of Canada and Lyndon B. Johnston was President of the United States – a good year to have the middle name “B.”. We gradually went downhill to “W.” as a middle name over the next 40 years.

Obviously in 1966, smoking was thought to make you look “with it”.

The Montreal Canadians beat the Detroit Red Wings in overtime on April 29 win the Stanley Cup – the best of six NHL teams. Gump Worsley and Jean Belliveau were on the team. No helmets, no goalie masks. Now, with 30 teams in the league and a season that stretches to June it is less hockey and more big business.

Before the donutsThe Toronto Maple Leafs had Johnny Bower, Frank Mahovolich and Tim Horton. They won the Stanley cup in 1967 but have not come up drinking champagne since. Tim Horton was still known for hockey, not donuts. Imagine a Canada with no Timbits or line-ups for double doubles. Hockey player Horton had one store in Hamilton in 1966. Today there are over 4000 Tim Horton’s Donut shops in Canada.

Revolver Album cover

Album Cover for the Beatles “Revolver” album

The Beatles released the Revolver Album (Eleanor Rigby, Yellow Submarine) in August of 1966. Other musical hits that year included “Monday Monday” by the Mamas and the Papas, “Strangers in the Night” by Frank Sinatra and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by the Supremes. Simon and Garfunkel released their “Sounds of Silence” album in 1966. They were little-enough known that I saw them perform at a free concert at UWO that fall.

The average cost of a house was $14,200 ( I bought my first house in 1971 for $17,500) and gasoline cost 32 cents a gallon. (Gallon not Litre).

The War in Viet Nam was going strong but protests against the war were escalating.

The Mini Skirt was a popular “fashion” trend for women. For men it was the paisley shirt. I had one. Black with red and yellow paisleys on it.

The first episode of Star Trek aired on television. And the first broadcast in Canada in colour was made by the CBC. I remember the first colour TV I saw – a big monstrosity in a cabinet with colour that was anything but subtle. But then I also remember my grandparents first Admiral TV in the mid ’50’s. We would sit and watch the test pattern – the one with the Indian on it – waiting for Howdy Doody to come on.

And what was happening in Africa in 1966? The Republic of Kenya was less than two years old, having achieved independence in December 1964. Jomo Kenyatta was the president. The Kenyan, Ugandan and Tanzanian Shillings were introduced as the currency for those countries. Botswana achieved independence in 1966.

Now the cool thing about all this is that the Supremes are long gone, Lester B. Pearson and Jomo Kenyatta are historical figures, the war in Viet Nam is over (but has been replaced by a similar one in Iraq and Afghanistan), the Leafs…well, we won’t go there. But Lorna and I, 46 years later, are still friends. We live in different parts of Ontario but we correspond regularly by email to share ideas and memories and we meet periodically for a catch up dinner. We still learn from each other – she has recently introduced me to the em-dash. Our friendship seems to be like the Eveready bunny – it just keeps going; and that makes me feel very fortunate.

And what did Lorna think about when she found those photos….check it out on her blog “Forever Blowing Bubbles” here.

Images of Africa – Elephant in the room

Take a moment to close your eyes; think of Africa; form an image.  What comes to mind?

In all likelihood the image is of a lion…or a Maasai warrior dressed in red, adorned with beads and carrying a spear…or of an emaciated child struggling for life in the arms of her distressed mother.

Although these images are all legitimate, they represent only a small portion of the cultural depth and diversity in sub-saharan Africa.  They are icons.  Is Canada thoroughly represented by a photograph of a  Mountie on a horse in a red tunic? Niagara Falls? A beaver? A big bull moose with horns like a hat rack?  Chances are that a large portion of the Canadian population has never come across a moose in the wild.  And the reality is that the majority of Africans have never seen a lion.

One of Heather Haynes paintings depicting the characteristic image visitors to East Africa retain forever.

The images we get are iconic and restrictive.  Charities often show pictures of starving kids to tug at heartstrings and garner donations. But these sad images do not reflect what one sees when visiting Africa. Instead the majority of people you meet there are polite and open and generous. They smile and are often immaculately dressed, no matter where they come from.  They are friendly and outgoing and eager to interact.  They know what they need to help their communities…they just don’t have the resources to put their ideas and dreams into action.

At the CanAssist African Relief Trust we try to present an accurate description of the needs of the communities we support without indulging in what has been called “the pornography of poverty”.  Some African people may be very needy by our standards but they are still proud and deserve not to be exploited with images of their poverty being the primary focus.

Heather Haynes, a Kingston artist, has travelled in East Africa and has found beauty and colour in the villages she has visited.  Her safaris in Africa have transformed her as an artist. She paints remarkably stunning life-sized portraits of African women and children and gives part of the profits from selling them back to charities working in Africa.  Heather has become immersed in this work and along with her sister, Whitney, who makes jewellery with an African theme, has opened the Heather Haynes Gallery in Kingston, Ontario at 318 King Street – across from the market. 

I recommend a visit to the Heather Haynes gallery, if only to see an accurate portrayal of the colourful, resilient people one meets every day while traveling in Africa. It would be wonderful if these were the images that pop into your mind when the word Africa is mentioned.


Sanitation….or lack of it.

When I was selling my house three years ago, prospective buyers were always anxious to see the kichen and the bathroom(s) as a priority.  What was the bathroom countertop like?  Were there two sinks? A rain shower?  One of those toilet lids that closes quietly without banging?   Magazines and web sites intrigue us with bathrooms where we could luxuriate all day. We in North America are certainly spoiled when it comes to bodily ablutions and evacuations and we have all been in service station washrooms that make us cringe.

According to Unicef and World Health Organization data, less than 35% of the population of Kenya has access to “improved sanitation” – which might just mean a clean ventilated outdoor latrine. Flush toilets for most…forget it.

One of the areas of focus for the Canassist African Relief Trust is to help schools in East Africa improve the situation for their students by constructing new latrines and having rainwater collection for both drinking and washing.

Let’s compare our expectations for sanitary toilet facilities with what some students and teachers endure in Kenya

These are the two buildings that serve as toilets for 300 pupils at the Mutunda School in Kenya

Recently CanAssist received another request for latrines from a school in a region where we were not acquainted with anyone as a contact.  So we sent one of our Kenyan colleagues to check it out.

Initially he was surprised that the request was coming from this community which, on the surface, seemed to be reasonably well off.  But as he went a bit more rurally to one of the schools, even he was shocked by what he found.

The Mutunda Primary School has about 300 pupils and ten teachers.  There are six stances in two toilet buildings to serve the students. The latrine for teachers  had long ago collapsed and was unusable.  The student latrines were in disrepair.  There was no access to water for hand washing.

The toilets that were used by the teachers have collapsed and can not be used. Want to teach here?

Dan sent photos. I have seen other latrines like this in Africa and remember the smell. Just looking at the photos almost made me gag.

The girls’ toilet. No further explanation necessary.

How on earth can you teach young people the health advantages of using clean sanitation facilities and hand-washing when the school toilets look like this?

The school has requested $5000 to build new toilets – ventilated drop toilets that are 30 feet deep. There will be 8 stances for the boys, 8 for the girls and two for the teachers (about $250 for each unit).  They will also install some rainwater catchment gutters on the school building to help promote hand-washing.  Hand-washing has been demonstrated to be as effective as clean drinking water to reduce disease from fecal contamination.

The CanAssist board has yet to review this proposal but I can’t imagine that we will not approve of this project.  How can we refuse? This is not only a matter of sanitation and health but also one of simple dignity.

Father’s Day 2012

It’s Father’s Day and I want my Dad to know that I am thinking about him.

I don’t know who posted this old photo to the Internet. It was taken in the summer of 1920 on the porch of a house called Marnoch where my Dad spent many happy times as a child. I came across it quite by accident a few weeks ago. It startled me to find a photograph of my grandparents taken almost 100 years ago as I Googled the family name. I wondered, as I looked at it, what the people in the picture would think about the longevity of this family gathering photo, made even more indelible in this digital age.
The man at the left is Alex Porterfield, my Dad’s uncle. My father’s middle name is Porterfield and mine is Alex. So this guy who had no children of his own lives on in spirit.

My grandfather is the thin man sitting beside Alex. His nickname was “Sliver”. He was a blacksmith in Belgrave, Ontario, a little town north of Clinton. He and my grandmother would have been about the same age as my kids are now when this picture was taken.

The man in the centre is Peter Porterfield, brother to Alex and Mary. He lived in British Columbia and seldom came to Ontario. He must have been making a summer visit.

The woman seated near the middle is Maud (Code) Porterfield. She was a favourite of my Dad’s and vice versa. I have an old clock that comes from her place. She had a wonderfully shaky voice like Katherine Hepburn and I loved visiting her house in Wingham when I was a child. Her other claim to fame is that her great niece is Alice Munro. Alice writes about her aunt in several of her stories. Aunt Maud is quite accurately and lovingly portrayed as Alice’s “Aunt Charlie” in the story “The Ticket” in her book “The View from Castle Rock”. I treated myself by rereading that story last night. Aunt Maud and Aunt Sadie appear in many other stories written by Alice Munro.

My grandmother is the woman standing on the right side. She looks stern in the photo. But I remember her as a sweet, dear little woman. The older woman seated beside my grandmother is her mother, my great grandmother, Mary Stevenson.

So where does my Dad fit in, you ask? Well look behind the man in the centre. Partially hidden, on the porch is a pram. In the pram would be my father who at that point was only a few months old. So this is the first photograph where my father appears…sort of…92 years ago. And he is still going strong in 2012.

In fact, thanks to his generous support of a community in Kenya, there is now a Stewart Geddes School in Osiri village, not far from the mainland ferry dock heading to Mbita. I am proud of Dad’s generosity toward this little school. Last year, his gift to them through CanAssist was to build latrines and fence the school yard. Just last month he donated funds to build two additional classrooms for the school. They report to me that the kids at the school are amused by having this strange “mzungu” name for their school, an honour that they offered to him in recognition of his support. And because of his help, the young children in this remote, neglected community will have a chance to start their education.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Your example of concern for the welfare of others has contributed to who I am today.

Something new

Not sure if this is the place where I welcome you to my blog or you welcome me to the Blogosphere.   Maybe we should do both.

I have returned this week from a very stimulating and helpful conference called MyCharityConnects in Toronto. I went there to get ideas about how to reach out to people about the charity that has consumed me for the past couple of years – The CanAssist African Relief Trust.   I came away with the instruction to “get the story out there” by blogging and Facebook and Twitter so I am going to jump right in.

I have lots of stories. And know lots of very interesting people in Africa.  I hope that by sharing them with you on this blog, I can excite you, too, in some way about global issues, reducing poverty in the third world and just being a global citizen.

I am very proud to be Canadian. But in the past several years I have worked in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina and made over a dozen trips to Africa and I have developed close ties with a family in Italy. I have families in all of these places that have made me feel like I am part of them. I have been given nicknames and pet names in several languages – Oseuri, Otim, John Ole Moiko, Amooti.  My family here in Canada all refer to me as Dedo – Bosnian for Grandpa.  So, although I am Canadian to the core, I feel very globally connected.  I care about all these people who have shown me love and respect and connection that is hard to describe…and in MasterCard terms, Priceless.

Since starting to work in Bosnia in 1998, I have published over 80 articles in the Kingston Whig Standard about my experiences. Perhaps I will uncover some of those to share in this blog as well.

I hope I can make it interesting. I hope I can entertain, educate and enthuse you.  I hope that you will give me feedback and that we can chat about issues and stories for which we share some common ground.

And what I have learned from my travel is that we all share a lot of common ground. This world.