I never thought I would be writing this.

I have been in East Africa for the past couple of weeks and quite out of touch with the news.  This weekend am back at a hotel near the city (Seeta, Uganda) and it has been raining so I have watched some news reports on the TV in my room. Seen from  the perspective of this part of the world, the news from the U.S.A.  leaves me feeling incredulous.  Yesterday one member of a panel discussing the exclusion of people from some Muslim nations to the U.S. and he talked about how he felt unsafe for himself and his children in South Carolina and that the President, using Christian values was concerned only about the safety and security of Americans.  No mention of  gun violence because of their gun laws or lack of them, but happy that only Christian refugees from Syria would be considered to come to the U.S. and that extreme terrorists from other countries would be kept out.  He then went on to say that the United States was a “gold standard” for a society in the world.  I almost threw my shoe through the television at him.  But then I realized that there must be many Americans who think this way or the current president, congress and senate would not have been elected.

The world population is 7 billion and the population of the USA is 330 million – less than 5 percent.
Americans now have fairly elected a Republican president, congress, and senate that want to make their country “great” by acting only in self-serving ways, excluding the rest of the world if it is not in their interest. Full of self-importance and egocentricity.
I know there are many Americans who do not think this way but the reality is that the country had a legitimate election and the current administration won the contest. I was encouraged to see the Women’s marches across the country (and around the world) but it feels a bit like the horse is already out of the barn.  Peaceful protest around the world can express opposition but it is only Americans – and I think more specifically sensible Republicans, if there are any – that can deal with this distressing regime. How did it get this far and just how far can it go?  The current government reflects the choice of the people. The United States of America will have to live with it, but why does the rest of the world?
What would happen if the other six and a half billion, the rest of us, just let the USA build its walls and live in a cocoon? Ignore them. Leave them to themselves. Let them do what they want within their walled existence. It wouldn’t have to be a political alliance just a cooperative effort.  Stop buying American goods. Stop selling them oil and water. Stop buying their weapons of war. Stop vacationing in Las Vegas or Florida or New York City. Watch Aljazeera instead of CNN. Go to internationally made movies. Form our own trade agreements excluding the USA. Make it “us” and the U.S.   Be friendly but just let them live in their restricted little egocentric American bubble. If they really want to interact meaningfully and inclusively with the rest of the world they will have to prove it. If not…good luck.

Walls and fences can keep people out but they also serve to keep people in. Let them build their walls and keep people out. Leave them alone. Let’s see how “great” they can be without the rest of the world supporting them as they bully their way into the position of privilege they think they deserve.

The behavior of the new U.S. administration is distressing.  I fear that the U.S.A., a badly (bigly?) divided nation is in for a rough ride.

I’m gonna make it up for all of The Sunday Times

I’m gonna make it up for all of the nursery rhymes

They never really seem to want to tell the truth

I’m so tired of you, America.

Making my own way home

Ain’t gonna be alone

I’ve got a life to lead, America

I’ve got a life to lead

Tell me, do you really think you go to hell for having loved?

Tell me, enough of thinking everything that you’ve done is good

I really need to know, after soaking the body of Jesus Christ in blood

I’m so tired of America.

Rufus Wainwright – Going To A Town

An African basketball story

Last year, while on a safari with other CanAssist supporters, Kingston teacher Nancy Grew was drawn to the small community of Ramula in Siaya District of Kenya. In addition to several others, the safari group visited two schools there, St Catherine Primary School and the Ramula District Secondary School, both having been beneficiaries of CanAssist support in the past.

Nancy is also a dedicated basketball fan and had brought basketballs and school supplies donated by Truedell Public School and a few uniforms from Kingston Impact for the kids at the schools. She was astounded to find that they had heard little about basketball and did not know how to play the game. Fortunately, one of the teachers at St Catherine school was keen to learn and over the next while he coordinated with another coach in the district to start to introduce the sport to the Ramula community.

Knowing that sport was a great way to develop teamwork, discipline, strategic planning and physical fitness in students, Nancy decided to encourage the community to develop a basketball programme for students in the district. She corresponded with coach Donald and was supportive, both financially and through encouragement, of a Ramula district basketball initiative.

Students of the very rural St Catherine school were joined by others in nearby communities and formed a team. Nancy learned that they had the opportunity to participate in a tournament in Kisumu, about 90 minutes away from “the rural”. She wished that she could go to see this game and to encourage the development of basketball in the district, but thought that was a pipe dream.

But pipe dreams can become reality. Nancy applied for a brief leave of absence from her teaching position with the Limestone District School Board and was grateful and delighted that it was approved – for five working days. This gave her a week to make the 14,000 km trek to Kisumu to see her team play in the tournament, have a brief visit to the community, and return home.

I was planning a trip to review CanAssist projects in Kenya and Uganda so I arranged for part of my safari to overlap to include the basketball tournament, too.

On Saturday January 14, we had the pleasure of watching these kids compete. The tournament was similar to any junior basketball tournament in Canada. It was held on an outdoor court at a Muslim school in multicultural Kisumu. The temperature in the sunshine on the court was about 32 degrees C. Despite this, the kids were energetic and motivated. There were five local teams and the games were for half the usual regulation time. The Ramula district team was entered with the name “Kingston” and our team sported donated Kingston Impact uniforms. Balls used for the games had been supplied by the Lakers Basketball Association of Kingston.
I know little about basketball but Nancy was impressed by the level of skill of these players, on all the teams. We were also pleased to see that one of the teams was made up of teenage girls – a reflection that girls and women in this country are being encouraged, at least in some circles, to be empowered to have equal opportunities.

We were delighted to cheer on the Kingston team and watch them win their first two games. Then they won the semi final game and advanced to the finals. Prior to the final game, the kids were all given a big lunch. The outcome? The Kingston team won the tournament, collecting a little trophy to take back to the rural Siaya District community.

What does this all prove? Anything is possible. These rural kids, through hard work and perseverance were able to learn enough in a few months to perform competitively. Nancy, also with determination and support was able to attend the tournament, half a world away. She is now even more motivated to continue to encourage the Ramula community by helping to set up a local league at two schools in the next year. She will look for support to build two sports pads that can be used in the community for basketball and other outdoor sports activities. She hopes that the lessons learned through participation in sports activities will benefit the kids throughout their lives. Stay tuned to see how this story ends.

Nancy has blogged about her mission and her recent trip to Kenya at bballstorygrew.blogspot.com

Watch Catherine’s news report about the tournament here:

Parts of this story appeared in the Kingston Whig Standard on Thursday January 26, 2012.

Along the road

Part of the fun in traveling in a different culture/country is to be observant as you drive from one place to another.

For a few days I was lodged in Kisumu Kenya and traveled back and forth to Ramula district (Kisumu to Luanda to Ramula) where we visited both the St Catherine School and the Ramula Secondary school.  I also stayed a couple of nights at Dan’s grandmother’s homestead. I have mentioned before that the Secondary school is exactly on the Equator so I was bouncing over the Equator several times a day.  I can tell you from experience that the Southern Hemisphere feels the same as the Northern one!  Here are some photos I took from the car as we traveled.

We met this large contingent of motorcycles followed by a large lorry full of people all on their way to the mortuary to pick up a corpse of a boda boda drive who died two weeks earlier in a road accident. They brought the body back to the community and stopped with him at various significant spots to exorcise demons and give him a proper send off.

Mondays and Thursdays are busy market days in Luanda. We could pick up a fresh pineapple for about a dollar. And there is no comparison between the juicy, sweet taste of a fresh pineapple here and the cardboard versions we get at home.

Kinyozi means barber. This barber shop offers a variety of additional services including battery charging, digital satellite TV programming, photocopying. I suspect those services are only available when the electricity is working, however. Adrian, you can get your hair cut here when you come to volunteer in the community.

And for the ladies, a beauty salon in Ramula trading centre.

These are students from the Ramula Secondary school walking home from school at about 6:30 pm. They attend school from 6 am to 6 pm and walk about an hour to and from the school. And have some homework and household chores to do when they get home. Canadian students take note…you have it easy compared to some.

“Ready-made coffins are for sale along the side of the road in Luanda. Shop for a coffin while getting hour bike repaired.

Mercy traveled to be with us on a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) driven by a guy named Saddam Hussein. He was wearing three winter weight jackets despite the predicted temperature of 33 degrees that day. You can also see him in the top photo, middle of the three lead motorcycles on the way to pick up the corpse. People are often named after celebrities here. In the house behind grandmother’s there are two little kids named Sarah Palin and Brad Pitt.

This is my African family, or one of them. Dan does a lot of CanAssist work for me and when he goes to the bank he is called “Geddes”. He has taken on many of my approaches to solving problems and refers to himself as the black Geddes. Mercy, his wife of a few months, took time off work as a Clinical Officer to spend with her “father-in-law”. What a treat it is to have them in my life.

Dan’s Grandmother, Ann. The epitome of a wise, wonderful, strong African woman.

The community. You can see from Google Maps that where it says Ramula is 0 degrees, 0 minutes and 14 seconds north of the Equator.

Nyumbani – Home

When I posted to my Facebook page that I was back in a Kenya I received a number of comments from my many African friends that could be summarized as “Welcome home.”   The Swahili phrase is “Karibu Nyumbani”. ” Come and visit.  When will I see you? I hope we can have lunch?  Are you coming my way? ”

This social media welcome extended to our first couple of days here where school principals were asking if we could visit them.  Even the students at one secondary school we anxious to have a school assembly to welcome us and they insisted that all of them get in the picture.  

Africans are generous and excited about welcoming visitors.  They extend that greeting to me but it feels more like family to me in so many East African communities.

I have a theory that there is some of my DNA that recognizes this as a place of my ancestral origin. If Monarch butterflies can find their breeding ground in Mexico without ever having been there or salmon can swim back to their birthplace to breed,  I am sure that there is some little chemical part of my genes that know this as the place where my genetic being began.

Over the next three weeks I will visit at least ten communities and will try to share some photos of my visits.  On Friday we went to the St Catherine School to open a new classsroom building and to the Ramula Secondary School where we constructed a new kitchen several months ago.  Both are well maintained and are serving the students and teachers well.   They are all grateful for the support of the  many donors to the CanAssist African Relief Trust that have made these improvements to their communities possible.

Yesterday we attended a basketball tournament in Kisumu – food for another longer story. Stay tuned.

Today we are heading to “the rural” for an overnight with Dan Otieno’s grandmother, Ann.  How fortunate I feel to be able to experience this association with my numerous African families.

We cross the equator every day going from Kisumu to Ramula. In fact the Ramula Secondary school is situated on the Equator!

These are the students at Ramula Secondary School, taken near the water tanks, installed with CanAssist donor support. Before these tanks were put in, the water for the school was brought in by donkey from a stream. The student have much less gastrointestinal illness with this clean water available.

Nancy looks out through the window of one of the new classrooms at St Catherine school as the kids sing and dance in celebration in the yard.

When I visited this community two years ago there was nothing here. The kids learned under a tree. Now there are six classrooms, an improved latrine, rainwater catchment and school furnishings at the St Catherine school, thanks to the support of CanAssist donors.

Signing the guest book at St Catherine School in the principal’s office. The last time I signed a document here it was in his office on a table under a mango tree.

Cutting the ribbon to open the new classroom at St Catherine school with a butcher knife. No scissors available.

Travel challenges – lessons learned.

I have travelled hundreds of thousands of miles by air in the past 15 years. I have had the odd delay or misdirected luggage but no significant challenges … until now.

I thought I was being smart, booking my flights several months in advance for my annual holiday in Sarasota of the Christmas break. I booked flights from Kingston, thinking it would be more convenient.

First of all the friends that were to join me during my first week cancelled two days before departure. Threatening weather for driving had them spooked. An omen. I thought I was fine although the forecast was for inclement weather on my departure date. In anticipation of that, my morning flight from Kingston to Toronto was cancelled. It had already been booked earlier than originally scheduled and luckily I checked the time a day before to find it had been cancelled. No one had told me this; I would have learned it when I showed up the next morning to find me rebooked a day later. I tried to rebook online and by phone but the could not get through to an agent. I went out to the airport, had them confirm that my Toronto flight would be ok for the next day and determined to take the train into the Toronto airport. ( the Union-Pearson express train, by the way is great).
I had to stand in line for two hours to get my boarding pass. As I showed my passport, the agent said I should renew it when I got home as it had just shy of six months on it. I said I would renew it when I got back from Africa in early February. This led to the revelation that I would need six months on my passport to get a visa in Kenya and Air Canada would not let me fly to Africa without that expiry date. Whoops. I planned to be in Florida until I January 7 and leave for Kenya January 10.
Freezing rain in Toronto required de-icing of the plane which delayed our already late departure by an hour more. Oh yes, and while I sorted out my boarding pass and learned of my passport problem, I had put my carry on bag on the scale. Turns out it was 2 pounds over the allotted weight ( I have never had to weigh my carry on before) so I had to pay $25. Eventually I arrived a bit late but in one piece and on the scheduled date.
Three weeks in Longboat Key. Sunshine, salt water, sand, snacks, Netflix, gin, a week with three grandkids, NHL game in Tampa, Disney. All in all a great three weeks to recharge.
But then time to come home. I worried a bit about getting to the airport early in the am and whether weather in Toronto would delay my return – I had that passport problem to sort out and only 48 hours do do it.
The day before my return I checked the Delta site to see about my flight time. The 7 am flight out of Sarasota cancelled. God knows why. No notice. So I called and after half an hour got a 5:55 am flight that met my other connections back to Canada. I planned an Uber ride to the airport at 4:15 am. I woke up about 3 and for some reason checked Delta again. The 5:55 am flight had been cancelled as well. No notice to me. Another hour on the phone with a pleasant man who said he was in Jamaica. He seemed not to know the East Coast geography very well. He asked why I would go all the way to Toronto to get to Kingston. He though it was Kingston Jamaica. Then he suggested that I rent a car and drive to Atlanta to pick up my flight to Toronto. I told him that was an 8 hour drive and where was I to rent a car at 3 am. I started suggesting alternatives to him. Fly out of Tampa? Fly through JFK? I was getting frustrated. At one point he paused and asked me “Are you crying, sir?”I was not. But it sounded like an option. And he won my heart by asking.
A few minutes into the call another problem arose. I had set my alarm on my iPad to wake me up for the intended time and half way through the call it started. My wake up music happened to be Hasa diga eebowai from Book of Mormon. Anyone who knows that song knows I would want to turn it off but I was on Skype on the iPad and was afraid to lose the call while this nice young man was trying to help me out. So I was afraid to close my Skype window and the rude lyrics of the song were playing while this guy was assisting me. In some ways it was appropriate as it was how I was feeling but I wondered if he thought I was trying to send a message.
“What about Fort Myers?” I asked in desperation. There was one seat left – first class – on the 8:15 Fort Myers to Atlanta flight that would be able to connect with my flight back to Toronto. I would take it. He had to check with his supervisor. Did so and then came back to say, “Good news, I have you confirmed on the 6:45 flight out of Fort Myers.” I reminded him that it was 2 hours away, now 4 am and I had to figure out how to get there. I could likely make it by 8:15 as he had originally suggested. He kept saying “Don’t worry, I am being calm” as if to convince himself and me. I reassured him often that I was not crying…yet. Another 10 minutes on hold. Confirmed. Quick good bye and call to Uber for a 2 hour ride to the airport ($106 – but worth it). Torrential rain, lightening and high winds by the gulf. A couple of cars had slid (or been blown) off the road. Sometimes the rain was so hard we had to pull over. Me and the driver both following path on our phone Apps. He had never driven to that airport.
Got there. Thanks. Uber works well! Flight delayed. Apparently the whole Eastern seaboard was disrupted by high winds and rain. And snow and freezing rain in Atlanta put the whole airport, one of the busiest in the world, on hold for a couple of hours causing a huge backlog. We waited an hour in the plane. Eventually we taxied out and took off. The flight was smooth but the decent into windy Atlanta was a bit like riding Space Mountain.
Next we spent an hour on the ground sitting and taxiing around past planes being de-iced, looking for an empty gate. There was a bit of snow at the edge of the runways and the grass was still glistening with ice. After an hour we got to the gate but the jetway was frozen and would not come up to the plane. More delay. Time had already run out for several passengers making connections and, although I had initially thought I would have lots of time, it was growing shorter.
Change of terminals. To the gate. Boarded early and ready to go. The passengers looked and acted like Canadians. You can just tell. My seat was near the back beside the engines. This is Delta’s punishment for booking with Travelocity – Not much of a view and noisy as all get out, last to get the drinks and last one off the plane, but no one in front of me, behind me, or beside me. I didn’t mind; it gave me a chance to spread out. Can you spread out on a plane?
But wait. The flight attendant says there will be a short delay. We are all boarded and buckled in but we have no pilots. The weather problems and reroutings had necessitated lots of flight crew changes and our originally scheduled crew was stuck somewhere. Two officers eventually arrive, one at a time from different incoming flights. One is named Captain Kirk. They check everything out, do the paperwork. Finally we departed but it was an hour late. When we arrive in Toronto the plane is directed to “not the usual gate” and there is no ground staff to meet us. Another 30 minutes before they open the door. But I am back on Canada. Sigh.

When anticipating a delay in my travel home I had worried about weather disrupting the small plane from Toronto to Kingston but it turns out that was the flight with the least problems (although we did have to wait 25 minutes with the propellers going because another plane was stalled behind ours and we couldn’t get out of the gate.

So I am home after a challenging bit of travel this trip.  Wish me luck in getting my passport renewed before Tuesday when I am scheduled to set off for Africa!
What did I learn from this?

Check your flight departure times a few hours prior to the flight. The airline or the booking agent may not warn you of a change and the later you leave if, the more difficult it is to come up with an alternative flight. When we were delayed in Fort Myers, some folks thought they might leave the plane and rebook the next day. The flight crew advised strongly against that as they said that due to the season, the cancellations and the disruption caused by the mass shootings at Fort Lauderdale the day before, there were no seats left out of Fort Myers with Delta for three days.

Keep six months on your passport. I thought I had lots of time to renew with four months remaining on mine after my scheduled return from Uganda but the airline will not let you fly if they think you may not get a visa and be deported as they are heavily fined.

If you don’t want a seat near the engines at the back of the plane, book with the airline rather than Travelocity.

Uber got me there. I had never used it before and it worked well for me. Based on that one experience, I recommend trying it. Much cheaper than a taxi would have been and how would I find one on LBK in the middle of the night anyway? The guy drove me 100 miles to the airport at 4:30 am in a torrential rainstorm. Without that option I would have been totally stuck. Thank you Ahmed!

Have faith. Always think of a plan B. I had to come up with lots of alternatives on these two itineraries. Patience and persistence paid off. I am good with persistence but patience is not my strength. Don’t give up. Leonard Cohen says “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Despite the frustrations and inconveniences, I had a great holiday and it was well worth it. I have to keep that in mind as I travel. There is a price to pay for the reward.

Watching paint dry in Manchester

There are many, many great reviews of Manchester by the Sea online. Lots of accolades for Casey Affleck and the movie in general. Forecasts of awards. It gets 97% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.  I have never seen a movie get such consistently high approval there. So I thought I should see it.

I admit that I went with high expectations and only a smidgen of information about the plot.  I found the movie to be slow…no Slow, with a capital S.  It ends up as spending two hours and fifteen minutes with a guy (Lee Chandler) who is depressed and traumatized. There seemed to be no arc.  It just went on and on with Lee declining to interact meaningfully with anyone, breaking in to flying fists or f-bombs at the drop of a hat. It was predictable and tedious.

Now, maybe to the movie’s credit that is what it feels like to be depressed.  Stuck in the mud with no way out or no energy to make one’s way out.  So for that portrayal I will give the movie credit.  I got depressed just trying to pick photos for this blog article.

There were a lot of abruptly edited flashbacks that seemed jarring to me. And there were a few scenes that just dragged on and on with no progress and sometimes no point.  At times I wondered if the cast were adlibbing their lines.  But then the reviews all credit positively the screenplay.  Go figure.  Some of the minor characters were distractingly boring.  And I found the choice of music as background odd and sometimes feeling inappropriate.  Like going to your iTunes catalogue and pressing random to select a background song.

Sorry, I just got nothing out of this movie and found it monotonous. If you want to spend a couple of glum hours not seeing one smile, this is the movie for you.  Rogue One was at the other end of the spectrum in terms of frenzied action so in the past couple of weeks I have experoemced the gamut. 3 out of 5 from me. May win awards but not from me. Affleck’s performance may have  been good but there have been many others in the past year that were much better.