I have always enjoyed a good party.

Last fall, my friend Margi McKay interviewed me as part of a Kingston Public Library project to have people select an old photo from their past and talk about it.  You might enjoy listening to the 22 minute interview.  I am happy to have it preserved.  Some day my grandchildren or great grandchildren will be able to hear me talk about my childhood.

And how things have changed in my lifetime.  I feel like a bit of a pioneer.  The TV set in the photo was the latest technology.  Now everyone has this in their pocket.

There is a link below to an edited version of the interview but if you have the 20 minutes, the longer interview is better as it is more thoughtful and complete.  You can access it by clicking on the photo below or here.

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For the shorter edited version you can click here.  It is a bit more rushed and the editing sounds like I have had about 4 cups of coffee prior to the interview.  But in these days of shorter attention span, this works well.  Click here for the abbreviated version.

I talk about 448 Mornington Ave, London in the interview.  It is where the party took place. Here is my brother Bob and I on the front porch of that house about the same time.

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A Manic Monday

After waving good day to the grandkids as they headed off to school, I walked  to the nearby conservation area in Whitby, just east of Toronto and spent an hour with nature. Just me and the birds and bunnies and butterflies  and wildflowers.  I felt like Snow White.  I saw no humanoids for at least an hour but did encounter some wild turkeys, two deer, lots of curious chipmunks and a big turtle.  I had my 12,000 steps in by 10 am.

By 12:30 I was in the heart of Toronto. Incredible, really, to go from solitude to the vibrant centre of Canada’s biggest City in what seemed like a heartbeat.

I will be working in Toronto all week.  I always find the core of the city invigorating.

I lucked out when I checked into my hotel to find that I was upgraded to a “club room” with lounge access and a full breakfast.  I headed over to Church Street for a long overdue haircut, figuring that the Gay Village are might be my best bet to get a good haircut from a new barber.  I was right!

And tonight I met a colleague,  Gail Gray,  for dinner.  Gail and I worked in tandem in Bosnia for 10 years.  My friends in BiH will be delighted to know that we get together annually and reminisce.

Here is a Toronto selfie I took today. Can you find me?

Crossing the Atlantic in 1855 – 2 – Out to sea.

Excerpts from my great grandfather’s diary as he immigrated to Canada on a sailing ship in the spring of 1855 – continued.  If you missed the start of this voyage it commences here.

April 23

We are going at the rate of seven miles an hour.  The Captain says we are not about 500 miles from Glasgow.  I am about 700 miles from Ardmeallie.  Our “Home” is dancing beautifully across the waters sometimes mounting on a high wave and then down again till i sometimes think she will be engulfed in the might deep. It is now about 7 o’clock , the rest all bedded a while ago and I am the only sound one amongst the steerage passengers.  The only company we have now is a few seagulls.

April 24

Wind still very high…sea was very rough betimes throughout the night, a terrible swing on the ship which makes some of our gear tumble about. We have great difficulty in keeping on our feet above or below. Toward sunset the wind still increased and the spray was splashing in over upon the deck terrible betimes.

April 25

Wind very high throughout the night, it has shifted a point farther west, now right ahead of us. We are coming very little speed today, about 4 miles an hour.  The sailors tell me that it matters little whether we go or stand today as the wind is driving us too far North we are going the wrong way.

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Going the wrong way!

So there they are, a week at sea, God knows where in the North Atlantic,  the wind blowing against them and driving them north  off their course. Nothing but sea around them.  How did they navigate?  Nothing but the stars to guide them on the open ocean.

Water sloshing over the deck and “the ship rocking fearfully betimes.” Trouble staying on their feet.  Gear being bounced around in the hold. No other ships in sight.  “We are very lonely.”  I wonder what the passengers were thinking. 

Lonely.jpgApril 28

It blew a complete hurricane throughout the night, making our water cans tumble about and making a terrible noise, the water dashing in over the deck sometimes with a fearful noise in the silence of the night, driving sleep away from the most of us…This morning I got an awful tumble, the deck being wet and slippery,  but did not hurt myself…much. 

April 29

I was told by one of the sailors that if I had been up half an hour earlier I would have seen a whale.  I have spent this day in reading my Bible and other religious books when not engaged in works of necessity. We are now nearly half way across the Atlantic and have been blessed with a beautiful Sabbath, a foretaste, I hope of that eternal rest which remaineth for those who love and serve God in this world below.  Truly God has been mindful of us all aboard this ship, we are blessed with good health, all of us.”Oh that men would praise the lord for his goodness and for his wonderful words to the Children of Men”  Psalm 107.

Peter does seem to like Psalm 107!

May 1

The captain says if we continue all day (24 hours) we will make 160 miles or thereby. We are going at the rate of 6 1/2 miles per hour.  I heard the first mate say today that we have had a very quick passage so far, but the most difficult part of our passage is yet before us especially when we come to the River of St Lawrence.

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Although Peter does mention water in barrels rolling around in the hold, there is no mention of food at any point in this diary.  He does say that most of the people were ill during the first part of the journey.  What did it smell like below deck?  Don’t dwell too long on that thought.

They would have to bring along enough food and fresh water for 150 people for 6 weeks with no place to replenish supplies.  Can you imaging making those plans, in a time without refrigeration or power?    

I have read that most of the time the passengers had to bring along their own food.  Here is a list I found of what might be necessary to bring for one adult on a ten week sailing trip in 1870.  The meat would have to be salted or dried or pickled somehow.   And what about fresh water?  It was likely rationed.  They had to presume that they would be at least six weeks crossing the Atlantic and Peter has mentioned that there were 96 passengers on board.  I am not sure if this included the crew.

The following is a list of provisions printed by Det Norske Udvandringsselskap in Christiania (later Oslo) in the 1870s. These provisions were intended to be adequate for an adult for up to ten weeks:

– 70 pounds hard bread (or the equivalent in soft bread or flatbread)
– 8 pounds butter
– 24 pounds meat
– 10 pounds sidepork
– 1 small keg of herring
– 8/3 Td. potatoes
– 20 pounds rye and barley flour
– ½ bushel dried peas
– ½ bushel pearl barley
– 3 pounds coffee
– 3 pounds sugar
– 2½ pounds syrup
– Quantities of salt, pepper, vinegar and onions
Of course, each passenger may take along the type of provisions desired as long as they are adequate for 10 weeks. [Pound = 454 grams, Td. = tønne = keg]

 

Here is a notation made by Ole Ellingsen Strand,  a Norwegian lad of 11 when he crossed the Atlantic from Drammen, Norway to New York in 1851 on a ship similar to the “Home” 

“The first week out their appetites did not require much of any cooking, and the lunch baskets that people brought with them from home lasted several days. But they finally had to get on with it. Then every morning at a certain hour one from each family had to go down into the bottom room or hold of the vessel where the food and water was dealt out to each family for the day. The wood had to be split very fine before they could use it to any advantage, and the water had to be put into jugs or something similar to prevent it from spilling.

And now for the kitchen. Early in the morning you could see the women coming up from below with a little bundle of fine split wood in one hand and a little kettle of some kind or a coffee pot in the other, heading for the kitchen, eager to find a vacant place somewhere on this bed of sand large enough to set their kettle on and build a fire under it. But it would not be very late in the day, if the weather was favorable, till every place in the kitchen was occupied, and there would be a large crowd outside waiting for vacant places, which were generally engaged already. And if you sat outside watching the kitchen door you could in 18 minutes time see perhaps half dozen women come out with their aprons over their faces, wiping tears, coughing and almost strangled with smoke. They would stay outside long enough to get their lungs filled with fresh air and the tears wiped out of their eyes, then they would crowd themselves back in again. Perhaps to find the fire and wood removed from their kettle under somebody else’s. Then, of course, broad hints and sharp words would be exchanged, and the loser would have to watch the opportunity when her next neighbor would have to go outside for fresh air to get her wood and fire back again. And these were not the only adversities and troubles in the kitchen because it was hardly ever so stormy but that somebody tried to cook something, and if it was too stormy for the women to be on deck the men would generally volunteer to steep tea, cook coffee, or even make a kettle of soup. They would start their fire, put their kettles on, and in a little while the cook shanty would be chock full of men. Some would be on their knees, some sitting flat on the floor while others would be standing outside peering in. Then imagine an oncoming big wave striking the vessel and almost setting it on end, and in a wink of an eye every kettle, coffee pot, and teapot is upset and spilled in the fire and hot ashes. This of course made them scramble for the door and you could see that coming out like swirling bees from a beehive. Some would swear, some could laugh, while others would say they might have known better than to try to cook anything this stormy day, but in less than an hour the shanty would be full again and perhaps going through the whole performance. This was how we came to America in an early day. And thus we worried and suffered for nearly 8 weeks until we finally arrived in the City of New York about the 11th of July and everybody soon forgot the troubles and trials they had on the voyage by seeing the beautiful green fields being thawed out by the warm rays of the sun after they had been a constant target for the cold and raw winds of the Atlantic.”

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.

CanAssist tries to do no harm.

Primum non nocere – first of all, do no harm”  was a dictum that I learned in medical school and always tried to apply in day to day practice.  I remind myself of this principle, as well, in my role as a trustee of  the CanAssist African Relief Trust, an African charity that has consumed much of my energy over the last few years.

There are two schools of thought about providing development aid to some struggling parts of the world.

unknownPeter Singer puts forth the argument that we are morally obliged to help. If we see someone straining to survive and helping them would be of little significant consequence to our own well-being then we must.  Most of us would not hesitate to wade into a shallow pool to save a drowning child, even if it meant getting our new leather shoes wet and dirty.  Taken more broadly, giving up the cost of a night out at the movies to help vulnerable children in Africa follows the same moral responsibility.  A life saved is a life saved, whether in a Canadian water park or a Ugandan village.

Other writers wonder whether some forms of developmental aid are doing more harm than good.  A recent  documentary, Poverty Inc, refers specifically to the tons of rice that poured into Haiti after their disaster in 2010. This aid was certainly helpful for crisis relief but it continued to flow into Haiti after the crisis was over.  Free rice, bought from suppliers in the US and subsidized by the US government to provide “aid”, caused the farmers in Haiti who previously sold rice locally to go bankrupt.  Who would pay for rice at the market when you can get it for free?  This ongoing supply undermined the local economy and increased dependency while American suppliers were being paid.  There is a difference between humanitarian aid and ongoing developmental funding.

This debate challenges me to think about what we do through the CanAssist African Relief Trust.  How can we satisfy our moral obligation to help struggling communities but not create or foster dependency?  Like the primum non nocere dictum, it is partly what we don’t do that is important.

1-2First of all, CanAssist does not send goods; we send money.  We don’t flood the East African market with materials purchased in Canada and shipped overseas at great cost.

CanAssist does not deal with large multi-layered governmental departments but directly with individual schools, support groups and clinics. We don’t go to a community to promote our own agenda or ways of doing things.  We let the community, school, health facility come to us with their ideas of what sustainable infrastructure we can fund that will improve their well-being.

We don’t send unskilled volunteers to Africa in a “voluntourism”  holiday to build a school or do  other work that can be done more effectively by Africans. Our supporters don’t rob jobs from local carpenters and masons who need that work to pay for their family’s schooling or health needs. Instead, our funding stimulates the local economy, albeit in a small way.

dsc05459We don’t provide money for programming, staffing or other individual support. Once a donor starts paying for school fees for a young child, for example,  the student  becomes dependent on the benefactor’s help to finish secondary school, and beyond.  It becomes difficult to stop this individual aid.  And only one person benefits from this well-meaning generosity.  CanAssist provides communities with funding for sanitation or clean water, or for classrooms and furnishings at rural schools.  The materials are purchased locally and construction done by employing local workers, both men and women.  If parents are healthy, better educated and have work available, they can earn the money to look after their children.  CanAssist project funding, therefore,  provides two benefits – temporary employment for local people and infrastructure improvement to the community, benefitting many rather than just one or two.

CanAssist’s administrative expenses in Canada are about 5% of our budget. For some other development programmes, a large proportion of the claimed development funding stays in Canada, paying for salaries, airfares, office space, fax machines, hotels and computers. CanAssist does have obligatory administrative expenses like bank fees, Internet  access, postage and liability insurance and some unavoidable professional fees we can not get pro bono. All other goods and services are purchased in Africa.  We pay no Canadian salaries.   We provide casual employment to some Africans to help implement our projects but this, too, provides initiative to them to work to earn their money. It is not a handout.

We don’t fund  one group indefinitely.  CanAssist attempts to give a school or community a kick-start to help their development but ultimately they must figure out how to manage their own operational and infrastructure needs.  The goal is self-sufficiency and this would not be attainable if the group could rely on CanAssist support indefinitely.

For these reasons, I am convinced that that CanAssist can continue to provide help without harm African communities.  We are grateful to our many generous donors who participate confidently in this mission with us – knowing that they can help without fostering dependency.

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Spring reflections in photos -Pt 2

Yesterday I posted some spring photos. Several of the pictures I took had interesting reflection in the smooth lake so I have grouped them together here.  Part 2.  You can see yesterday’s other photos here if you missed them. It delights me that I have been able to take all these photos within about 10 minutes of my home in beautiful downtown Kingston, Ontario.

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March 6, 2016

Today seemed like we were on the brink of spring – a clear, sunny, cold day in early March that promises springtime but hangs on to the vestiges of winter.   Lake Ontario had been made smooth by the partial melting of the surface ice in the sunshine.  Students couldn’t resist walking or skating or skimming over the frozen lake with ice boats.

Pictures always worth 1000 words.

My  friends in Africa won’t quite comprehend how the lake could be like this.

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Bright day.jpegwindmills.jpegLake walk Mar.jpegyacht club.jpegIce lake walk.jpegIce lake 1.jpeg

 

You can

Sometimes it is easier to turn a blind eye to poverty and suffering than to do something about it.

In Canada, because we have social assistance programmes  funded by our various levels of government, we tend to let others provide the help rather than deal directly with the people in need.

Do you know that a single person receiving social assistance (we used to call this welfare) only gets about $650 a month to sustain them? Could you find accommodation, food, clothing, and transportation for that? How could you find a job if you have no phone, or a computer connection to communicate with prospective employers, or transportation to go to an interview? If the social assistance recipient finds even a part-time job to supplement his/her income, that money is deducted from the social assistance check. This must remove incentive to find low-paying work, often the only jobs available.

Now … imagine what it is like in much of sub-Saharan Africa. There is no government social assistance, or employment insurance, or social security, or pension plan. Unemployment rates approach 40% in Kenya (in Canada is is 6.8%) and the food inflation rate in Kenya in 2014 was 8% compared to ours at 3.9%. Although primary school education in Kenya is claimed to be “free”, many families can not afford the required school uniforms, or additional payments needed to support poorly-payed teachers. Classrooms may have sixty or more pupils per teacher, no desks, and no books.

The burden of illness in much of Africa from infectious diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS and ebola far outweighs ours. In Kenya, one  child in fourteen dies before the age of five and the chances of a woman dying of a complication from pregnancy is 1:250 compared to 1:9000 here.

Despite their poverty, patients are required to pay a small user fee for health services and medications are often not available or too expensive.

Those of us who have visited communities where this is the situation come home wondering what we can do to help. This is poverty beyond what we, in Canada, can comprehend.

When faced with these overwhelming statistics, it might be natural to feel sorry but give in to the thought that the problems are just too great and vague for individuals like ourselves to do anything about it.

Let me tell you about one Kingston family that decided to help.

Thomas and friends enjoying a filling lunch thanks to Canadian friends.

Thomas and friends enjoying a filling lunch thanks to Canadian friends.

Last year, Marcia O’Brien, her two young sons and her mom, Gabriella Zamojski traveled to Kenya. During their trip, they visited some rural community schools supported by the CanAssist African Relief Trust.

While visiting the S.P. Geddes Early Childhood Development Centre in Osiri village, they were impressed by how the community was attempting to provide early education to the young children at the school. They also saw that many of the pupils (and teachers too) come to school hungry. One young fellow named Thomas caught their attention and represented the rest. His father is deaf and mute and his mother had died the day prior to their visit to the school.  Yet, the child was at school, is best opportunity to receive some caring and support. He was, like many of the other children, hungry.

The image of this child haunted Marcia and Gabriella for months after they returned home. They decided to do what they could to help Thomas and the other children at the school.

In February, I took money from this Canadian family to the school in Kenya to start a weekly lunch programme. CanAssist bought plates and spoons, the children will bring sticks of firewood, parent volunteers will help stir the pots and serve the food and their Kingstonian friends will provide $100 a month, money that will allow the school to feed 120 kids a nutritious lunch once a week.

Although it may be tempting and more appealing to our hearts to provide individual help to one needy child, at the CanAssist African Relief Trust we believe that by helping the community with infrastructure like classrooms, clinics, latrines and water tanks, we are contributing to the well-being of many rather than just a few. Marcia and Gabriella have also adopted this stance with their direct donation to the Kenyan school to feed the whole group, even though their hearts were particularly touched by one student.

What can you do to help? Realize that your support, however meagre it may seem in the big picture, does make a difference to the people in need who live in our own community, or to those who are even more impoverished in developing nations.  Every individual effort helps. Combined small contributions add up.  Believe it. You can assist.

Little S.P. hands out spoons to the children lined up to get their lunch.

Little S.P. hands out spoons to the children lined up to get their lunch.

Portions of this  article was printed in the Kingston Whig Standard on Thursday April 9, 2015.

Celebrating Josephine …

I had a message from Uganda today that Josephine died last night.

 

Neighbour helps Josephine wash her hands before we have afternoon tea.

Neighbour helps Josephine wash her hands before we have afternoon tea.

Josephine Apoo was a woman whom I met last time I was in Uganda in the remote community of Olimai.   No one knew exactly how old she was but she was well over 100, perhaps as old as 110 – remarkable in a country where the average  life expectancy is about 60.  “She was here  when people ran around wearing no clothes at all,” I was told.   The stuff of which  early African stories are made.

 

Her neighbours were always looking out for her.  She would join them for tea or a bit of food, walking with a stick from her house. We shared tea and some mango one bright October afternoon in 2013.

The last time I saw her she was heading home into a  brisk wind. A storm was threatening.  She was pretty sturdy against the wind.  The image of her heading into the wind, over 100 years old, still being strong and independent is one that I will never forget.

My friend in Uganda asked that I join them in celebrating her life.  Worth celebrating, indeed.  My condolences to her many loved ones in Olimai. I feel privileged to have met her.

 

Josephine - October 2013.   Died March 18, 2014 at well over 100 years old. Olimai, Uganda.

Josephine – October 2013. Died March 18, 2014 at well over 100 years old. Olimai, Uganda.