A colourful Kingston weekend – June 20, 2013

I have been drawn to the vibrant colours of the early summer flowers and, like most photographers, can not resist capturing some of these images.Lilies F_filtered

Custom house

The lilies are in a garden just outside the historic Kingston Customs House buliding built in 1856 at the corner of Brock and King Streets.



The pansies are in a pot on my balcony – loving the weather.



This geranium is on a plant that I have in my living room window. It overlooks the lake and watches the Wolfe Island Ferry come and go. I have had this plant (or an offspring of it) for over five years and it currently has 61 buds and blooms on it. Like me, it is very happy to be living by the lake in Kingston.



And Kingston Market Square behind City Hall, of course.

Petunia basket

What little people can do …

This is an article that I wrote which was published in the Kingston Whig Standard on Saturday June 22, 2013.

The pupils in Mrs. Pare’s class at Glenburnie Public School are ending the year on a high note and children in a rural Kenyan school are also celebrating, thanks to the generosity of their Canadian peers.

IMG_0485In May, I visited the Glenburnie School class to talk about Africa.  They had been reading a book called Alexandria in Africa by Eric Walters. In the book, Alexandria, a young teen from a privileged background ends up in Kenya and sees the challenges of people who live with much less. The Canadian students became both curious about the way people live in Kenya and also motivated to do something to help children living in communities that are not as fortunate as we are.

I showed the Glenburnie kids pictures of my many Maasai friends, told them how traditional Maasai people live, showed them Maasai beadwork and ornaments and photos of my goat, Veronica, whose family is ever growing in fields near the Rift Valley.

We also talked about schools in other regions of  Kenya and, in particular, about the S.P. Geddes Early Childhood Development school in a little fishing village on the shore of Lake Victoria.

Through donations to CanAssist from my 93 year-old Dad and some of his friends and family, we have been able to fence a schoolyard, put in latrines and build a couple of new classrooms at this rural lakeside village.  In appreciation, the community named the school after my father and when I visited them last February they even plunked a six-month old boy in my lap and said “Meet little Stewart Geddes.” You can imagine how wide my smile was and how excited I was to share this news of this Kenyan namesake with my father when I got home.

Although the village school has two classroom buildings, the older one needs repair and they have absolutely no furnishings.  The children learn sitting on mats on the floor – a dirt floor in the older building. CanAssist hopes to remedy that soon.

When the Glenburnie students heard about this they decided that they would like to help out.  They started a “Dimes 4 Desks” campaign at the school, set up a table at the school Fun Fair, took tin cans and jars around to other classes to collect dimes and told their neighbours about their project to help African children.  One of the students made a video/powerpoint presentation (which can be seen on the CanAssist website).

Last week I went back to the school and they made me guess how much they had raised.  I was astounded when the figure reached $1100.  I wondered, “If 24 grade four students could come up with $1100 in a month collecting dimes, how much could the same number of adults raise collecting toonies?” Does anybody out there want to try?

Thank you from AfricaI relayed the good news that the Kenyan school will soon be able to purchase desks and chairs  and soon received a photo of the kids at the school preparing a thank-you sign for their friends in Glenburnie.  I can only imagine the excitement of the children in her class when Mrs. Pare shows them this personal thank you from Africa.

The children at Glenburnie School told me that they had learned a lot about Africa in the last month. And I learned too.  These kids proved that with teamwork and enthusiasm goals can be met.  They proved that small financial contributions can mount to accomplish something significant if everyone contributes a bit and shares the load.  The smiles on their faces and their delight at being able to help others has buoyed me up for the ongoing work that CanAssist is doing in East Africa.

As Gavroche in Les Misérables says “This only goes to show what little people can do!”

Summer evening in Kingston – June 21, 2013

Today was the first day of summer according to the calendar.

This evening the Lake Ontario was calm and there were lots of people out enjoying the longest day of the year for us.  Sunrise was this morning at 5:22am and sunset at 8:53.

I went out to enjoy the evening and, once again, had to pull out my phone for some photos, all taken within a 10 minute walk from where I live.  How I do enjoy living in downtown Kingston.

Kingston City Hall from the Confederation Basin

Kingston City Hall from the Confederation Basin

Behind City Hall. I grabbed a coffee from Starbucks and sat at this table for a while just soaking up Kingston.

Behind City Hall. I grabbed a coffee from Starbucks and sat at this table for a while just soaking up Kingston.

King Street from Market Square behind City Hall.

King Street from Market Square behind City Hall.

Lots of patio restaurants busy this evening.

Lots of patio restaurants busy this evening.


City Hall from Market Square

City Hall from Market Square


From the roof of my apartment building.

From the roof of my apartment building.


2013-06-21 20.50.07_f

In search of a Ugandan Rose…

My 2009 safari in East Africa took me back to the edge of Kibale Forest, a high-altitude rain forest ( a jungle, in fact)  in Western Uganda. The forest lived up to its name with rain pelting down in dramatic outbursts most days. When the clouds cleared it became humid and warm and felt quite tropical.

I had been there a few times before so it was quite wonderful to see the villagers who live nearby, people I had smiled and waved at in past visits. They seemed to remember this white-haired mzungu with a camera around his neck who wandered along the road taking pictures of birds and butterflies and kids. I have tentative plans to return to Kibale for a few days in September 2013 and am very much looking forward to it.

On my daily walks, as I followed the red dirt road into Kanyawara village, I was aware of  being watched by several sets of eyes.  An old baboon sits in the grass, scratching himself and looking like he’s a spectator for a parade. A big brown cow stops chewing for a moment to look up as I pass and children peek from behind curtain doorways.   Some of the bolder ones run out to greet me with “How are you?” the only English phrase that they know. One little girl is dressed in a torn and dirty party dress and most of the children are barefoot.

MarkI stopped along the way to visit a young fellow named Mark who is a progressive entrepreneurial type. He had purchased a plot of land that sloped down into the valley.  He grows all of the food needed to feed his four children and has some left over to sell. As we chat, he hands me a carrot pulled from his garden and I munch on it as we walk.  He introduces me to his 9 year old son, Moses, as “Geddes, my friend from Canada”.

He  and his wife have been digging sweet potatoes and pulling up plants that have peanut-like clusters on the roots. Ground nuts, or G-nuts, are a staple here.  Mark also knows that they enrich the soil somehow so he intercrops them with other plants.  We walked under the banana trees and he pointed out various other crops – greens, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, cassava and arrowroot. Avocado trees form a border for his lot. He sells the fruits for less than ten cents each. He breaks off a fresh pineapple from a spiny bush and cuts it up for me to savour. There is no comparison in taste between a tender, sweet, fresh pineapple that is five minutes from the plant and the pale sinewy ones we often get in the super market.

I leave Mark with thanks for his hospitality and carry on. I’m on a bit of a mission.  I have with me a photograph of Rose, a waif who I have seen by the side of the road every year for the past four.

When I first encountered Rose in 2006, she was a sad little waif on the side of the road.

When I first encountered Rose in 2006, she was a sad little waif on the side of the road.

When I get to her village, Rose is nowhere to be found. Knowing that many children in Uganda succumb to malaria or malnutrition before they reach the age of five, I worry that she is OK.

I show Rose’s picture to a woman who is sitting under a tree as she weaves a basket from coarse grass. She shakes her head then points vaguely across the road but I can tell from the look in her eyes and absence of a smile that I won’t find Rose there.

Rose in 2007.  I knew she remembered me from the year before.

Rose in 2007. I knew she remembered me from the year before.

A man sitting in a doorway looks at the photo and tells me that this little girl is not here any more. Both her parents died within the past few months, her mother on Christmas Day. She has gone to live with grandparents in another village – the stereotypical African orphan story. He says he will try to pass the picture on to them.

Disappointed, but glad to know that Rose is alive, I start to head back to the research station. Soon I am joined by four young kids who have been following me around the village. The youngest, about four years old is dressed in a one-piece red pajama outfit, the dome fasteners up the legs and around the crotch all undone. She grabs my hand as we walk.

I think of how trusting and open these kids are with me, a white foreigner from the other side of the world.. In North America, we have scared our children so much with warnings about strangers that they have become fearful and suspicious. There must be a happy medium.

As we walk, the kids want me to go up a side road. I don’t understand their Rutoro language nor do they understand my English, but it is clear that they want me to follow them, perhaps to their home.  So, also in a very non-North American way, I let these kids drag me half a kilometre up a narrow roadway lined with tall grass and banana trees.

We come to a driveway that leads to a small house. Outside a mother is sitting with a baby on her lap. Beans boil on an open fire in a mud kitchen hut. Three other kids are playing in the yard.

One of them is Rose.

Rose in 2009. A happier chid living with grandparents and brothers after both parents had died, likely of AIDS.

Rose in 2009. A happier chid living with grandparents and brothers after both parents had died, likely of AIDS.

She looked happy and healthier than when I saw her the year before.  Shyly she came to greet me. She remembered me for sure and once again, I checked out the scar on her leg that reminded us both of our first meeting when I treated an open sore there. We were all smiles and I take a few more photos with promises to send them back or maybe bring them myself one day.

After a brief visit, I headed out, feeling relieved that Rose was still there – still alive – struggling, no doubt, to get day to day but looking like she will survive. Rose will never know and would never understand the influence her being has had on motivating me to help in Africa where I can. I have trouble, sometimes, really understanding it myself.

I will travel to Kibale Forest again this September.  Will our paths cross again in this little town near the Ugandan jungle? Stay tuned.

Rose in 2010. Look at those eyes. She will be a teenager now. Will I find her again? I am on a mission.

Rose in 2010. Look at those eyes. She will be a teenager now. Will I find her again? I am on a mission.

Spectacular June day in Kingston Canada

This afternoon I rode the Red Rider from one end of Kingston (Lake Ontario Park) to the other (Fort Henry). Kingston today was just so vibrant. Stunning, bright blue sky and lake – both punctuated by patches of white – fluffy clouds in the sky and the odd whitecap blown up by the lake wind.  Fresh breeze to make it comfortable. Peonies and strawberries on the market.  Downtown and all the parks full of people outdoors enjoying the day.

My fantasy of passing a jocky cyclist in lycra pants sweating her way up Fort Henry hill came true.  Trouble containing my grin as I pulled out to pass her on the hill.

Pulled out my phone along the way to take some photos that I will let speak for themselves.

Spring Turnips at a stall on the Kingston market.

Spring Turnips at a stall on the Kingston market.

Kingston City Hall

Kingston City Hall

Lake Ontario Park shoreline

Lake Ontario Park shoreline

Kingston from the Fort Henry Hill

Kingston from the Fort Henry Hill

Music all afternoon, one place or another.
Music all afternoon, one place or another.

More music...

More music…


Ending stigma associated with mental health problems…

Up CloseToday, actress and humanitarian, Glenn Close will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada. Yesterday afternoon I was lucky to be able to attend a lecture that she gave at the university which was based on the work that she has been doing with Bring Change 2 Mind– an organization she founded to help reduce stigma associated with mental health problems.

My first notice of Glenn Close was when she was in the movie The Big Chill – a film made in 1983 and also starring other favourites of mine, William Hurt and Kevin Kline. I saw the movie in the Dream Theatre in Monterey, California. The theatre was small and the seats were actually from cars – big and bulky. They gave you the feeling that you were at a drive-in – the perfect venue to see this movie. I have vivid memories of that evening etched indellibly somewhere in my brain. The Big Chill will remain a favourite movie of mine,more for the venue than the film and certainly for a very attractive Glenn Close.

But I digress.

Although she alluded to some of her movie and acting experiences in her talk, it was really about the work she has been doing to try to reduce stigma associated with mental illness. Some of her work is with a Queen’s professor, Dr Heather Stewart who holds the Bell Canada Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research Chair at Queen’s.

The talk was very personal and often touching. Close has a sister who suffers from Bipolar Illness and a nephew who has Schizophrenia. For years, they went untreated. Everyone just thought they were “difficult” or acting out. Her sister had two suicide attempts as a teen. The family was fed up with their aberrant behaviour. In time, they realized the root of the problem was much deeper.

Close related the statistic that 2 of 3 people in North America with mental illness avoid getting treatment, often because of the stigma attached to their problem. She also said that one in four of us is touched by significant mental illness in their friends, family or themselves. None of us are immune, or so separated from people suffering from Depression, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Illness, PTSD or any other significant mental illness.

The gist of her talk – we have to accept mental illness like we do Diabetes or Cardiovascular Disease, not make it shameful or hidden and encourage access to appropriate care for people who suffer from it.

Glenn Close answers questions from an audience member with hearing impairment. He had to get close so they could converse and she engaged him one-on-one.

Glenn Close answers questions from an audience member with hearing impairment. He had to get close so they could converse and she engaged him one-on-one.

As a Health Care professional, I have to wonder if our system is actually up to this task. We often talk about “difficult” patients – people that the system has trouble dealing with because of their manipulative behaviour, poor compliance, anger issues or being demanding. I wonder how many of these “difficult” patients suffer from mental illness. How many of our patients who are non-compliant, aggressive and drug seeking actually have depressive illness or PTSD? How many of our patients with Eating Disorders have been victims of abuse in the past – sexual or emotional? If they or their problems seem “difficult” to us, how “difficult” must it be to be them?

And how are these patients often portrayed? Check out this short Public Service Announcement made by Glenn Close and her professional colleagues from the crew of the TV series “Damages”. ( Close revealed that the crew donated their time to make this short promo film after one of their own committed suicide… and none of them recognized his depression.)

Last month I was admiring the courage and openness of Angelina Jolie. This week it is Glenn Close. And it is not their celebrity that awes me, it is their determination to use that celebrity to bring notice and change to social issues that are often overlooked or hidden. They are putting their talents and good fortune to work to improve well-being. I am impressed with their integrity and openness and their determination to “do something” about important social issues.

Read more about the work Glenn Close is doing to reduce stigma in mental illness here: BC2M_Billboard_B

Movie stars seem to loom “large” in our imagination. Glenn Close is actually surprisingly petite – probably not more than five feet four in height. I discovered that she shares her birthday with my brother (March 19) and my year (1947). As with Angelina Jolie, I am available for lunch any time.

Dimes 4 desks

Kids!  Their enthusiasm is infectious.

Last month I visited the Grade 4 class at Glenburnie School to tell them a bit about Africa.

Here is a “campaign” that resulted from my visit. This short video presentation, created by Ashley, one of the students in the class,  speaks for itself.

Ashley had originally had “With a Little Help from my Friends” as her background music but YouTube is picky about copyright so we changed it to some original African sounds. I recorded the music in the video when I was visiting a CanAssist project site in the village of Olimai, Uganda in 2011.  The thumb piano band had welcomed me to the community in the afternoon and serenaded me again after dark. What a delightful treat for a visitor.

The money raised by the class will go to the S.P. Geddes Early Childhood Development Centre to provide furnishings (they have none at the moment).

Carpe diem

As I headed home for lunch yesterday I had a carpe diem moment.

Shrub 1I am lucky to live a five minute walk to work through an old neighbourhood in Kingston. As spring has (gradually) unfolded I have enjoyed seeing bushes and trees and flower beds burst to life. It is really incredible that these same streets can be icy and cold and devoid of life in the winter months and then lush and green and fragrant in the spring.

I was startled by a cluster of great orange Oriental Poppies that were hanging over the edge of the sidewalk on Earl Street. I glanced at them as I walked by but continued on my way. They summoned up fond memories of similar flowers in my parents’ back garden 40 years ago. Twenty metres past the poppies I suddenly stopped. I realized that their beauty would be short-lived. Rain is forecast for the weekend. These stunning, delicate blossoms will likely lose many of their petals in the winds or rain or just with the passage of time. Their brilliance will be fleeting.

I returned to the flowers and stood for a moment to absorb their beauty and fragility and to recognize that this was one of those many delicious life moments that has to be savoured before it quickly passes, never to be relived like it was just then.

As I finished my walk home, I reminded myself to take notice of those moments more often.

Oriental poppy

Carpe diem is a phrase from a Latin poem by Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65 BC – 8 BC), more widely known as Horace, that has become an aphorism. It is popularly translated as “seize the day”. Carpe is the second-person singular present active imperative of the Latin verb carpō, which literally means “You pick, pluck, pluck off, cull, crop, gather, to eat food, to serve, to want”, but Ovid used the word in the sense of, “enjoy, seize, use, make use of”.[1] It is related to the Greek verb (carpoomae) καρπόομαι, (I grab the fruit, profits, opportunity), (carpos) καρπός=fruit of tree, of effort, etc. Diem refers to “day”. Thus, a more accurate translation of “Carpe diem” would be “enjoy the day” or “pluck the day [when it is ripe]” Wikepedia