On a dreary, wet day, early in January, I opened a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, thinking that I would tackle it over the next several days. I was soon hooked on the challenge, settling on the common strategy of finding all the straight-edged bPuzzle 2.jpgorder pieces then filling in the centre. After the border was complete, the next step was to find recognizable pattern snippets that would go together to make part of the image. Occasionally, needing some help,  I would refer to the puzzle box to
get a clue.  Eventually I was down to the last hundred and fifty pieces and they all looked pretty much the same. Colour patterns now were very similar, so I had to switch tactics and rely on shapes and sizes to make them fit.  Most of the picture was visible but the last bit was much slower and, in the end, didn’t add that much more to the overall image. After about 15 scattered hours, over two days, I had the puzzle done.

There was one piece missing and  two of the other pieces fit together themselves but refused to squish into the space where they looked like they belonged.  Marilyn Monroe’s visage was missing her forehead. I crawled around on the floor under the table but the piece was not to be found.  I never did find it but in the end it really didn’t matter to me.  After a day of congratulating myself when I looked at the completed work, I tore it apart andIMG_3618 (1).jpg it went back into the box.

I had thought that I would put on some music while doing the puzzle but I did not. The only noise for those 15 hours, apart from my muttering to myself, was the tick tock of the 125-year-old clock that has been in our family since the late 1800’s.  Sometimes the rhythm reminded me of a tune that I would hum to myself. I was always surprised, when the clock struck the hour, that the time had gone by so quickly. One night I spend from 6pm until 1am non-stop working on the puzzle in silence. Those who know me will wonder at the silence part.

When it was all done, I reflected how this venture was like life itself.

The puzzle started as a lot of seemingly unrelated little parts but it gradually took shape into something that was recognizable and had a pattern that made sense.  The process had challenges and sometimes it seemed like it would not work out but eventually, if I persisted and stayed the course, I was able to find a piece that fit.  Finding one piece might lead to a cascade of success which soon returned to the usual plodding on another section of the puzzle.  In the end, there was a clear picture even though a couple of pieces would not fit in and one was missing. Overall it made sense even without those three missing units. After all, I had found links to 997 of the 1000 pieces, not a bad record.   Then, after I had a chance to rest and appreciate the picture for a short time, the whole thing was reduced to how it had started and went into a box.

IMG_3633.jpgLike life, the end point was not the goal. It was the process that was important.  The ticking of the antique clock made me conscious of the passing of time as I tried to make sense of the numerous pieces. Because it was a family heirloom, I also think that, in the silence, it also was a connection with those who had gone before me and who had also contributed to my own life picture. When I was finished the puzzle, I looked at what I had accomplished and was quite satisfied with the effort but also content to have it fragment back into 1000 – or as I had discovered, 999 – unrecognizable pieces.

We are all given a different life picture to work on. We may reach places where we are stalled or have to put one area of our puzzle aside for a while until we find pieces that help it make sense somewhere else. Progress comes in bursts and the closer we get to the end, the slower the process becomes and each piece added may have less impact on the whole image we are creating – more like finishing touches. We acknowledge the effort that it took and hope that it makes some sense even if every piece does not fit. And then we must  be prepared to let it go. It is the process that provides the satisfaction, not the final picture that can, and will,  be quickly reduced back to unrecognizable fragments.

A variant of ashes to ashes?

Jigsaw header

Cholera, then and now.


Kingston Ontario’s history includes a cholera epidemic that, between 1932 and 1934, killed ten percent of the city’s population. Skeleton Park LogoKingston residents are all familiar with the downtown McBurney Park ( known locally as Skeleton Park}, now home to an annual summer arts festival,  where many of the victims of this epidemic were buried 180 years ago.  Kingston’s popular home-town band, The Tragically Hip, even have a song that references the outbreak. The Hip Museum website has a great summary of the cholera epidemic that basically closed down all the stores in town with the exception of lumber outlets to make coffins.

img_8862Cholera was then, and remains now, a serious consequence of inadequate sanitation and clean water. It was not until John Snow traced an outbreak in London to a water pump on Broad Street that we understood that the disease was spread through water exposed to fecal contamination from other infected people.

In Canada today, 99 percent of the population has access to improved sanitation and clean water. Cholera is a disease of the past. But for communities in developing world countries, including those in East Africa, where, by comparison, only 60 percent of people have access to improved sanitation, it remains a serious threat.

Just last week I received an email from Dr. Karen Yeates, a Kingston nephrologist who is currently with her family in Tanzania. She writes:
“I just managed a cholera epidemic over Christmas at the little hospital I am doing some part time consulting at. I never thought I would see it in my lifetime as a physician…..its incredible that we have the ability to do everything we can in this world with technology and medicine but, the poor and disadvantaged in sub-Saharan Africa struggle with diseases of more than a century ago. We have had over 30 cases but no deaths thankfully. We traced it to lack of toilets and clean water in the three communities where it came from. They had stopped boiling water due to lack of ability to afford wood for their fires…its a choice of make food or boiling water but not enough wood for both. Inflation is high here right now due to the strong US dollar and everything has become more expensive for families here.
I was thinking about CAN-ASSIST and how many toilets you have built over the years….we can’t forget about these simple things…..:). 

Keep doing what you all do so well. “



The CanAssist African Relief Trust continues to work to improve water and sanitation for schools and communities in East Africa. This week we are starting a latrine project at a school on Ukerewe Island in Lake Victoria. In 2015 we installed clean water supply and toilets in ten different schools, clinics or lakeside villages.

There is little specific treatment for Cholera other than aggressive fluid and electrolyte replacement. Prevention through sanitation, protection of water supplies and hand-washing remains the key. This YouTube video is in Swahili and aimed at instructing African people about the importance of these prevention measures. It is simply presented and without knowing a word of the language it is easy to understand the message.