Rhinos and rainbows

Unknown.jpegLast night I went to see Rhinoceros at the Bader Centre for the Arts.  I knew several friends who were in it but had no idea what it was about.   I was a bit disoriented at first, not sure where it all was heading or why.  Tied together by the notion that there were a few rhinoceroses seen about town and they presented both curiosity and perhaps even threat, the rest of the night was a series of vignettes – monologues and poems and dance and music – that were largely written and performed by local people.

As the evening wore on I could better understand the thread.  Basically it was a comment on diversity in our community and on our streets and, in the long run, we are all unique and in some way a rhinoceros to others.   We need to be tolerant and open in seeing new people or people that differ from us in whatever way.

Now this sounds a bit preachy but that was not how it came across. It was a bit of a grab bag and some of the performances were a bit awkward but all were heartfelt. I was not bored for a minute.  There were so many ideas and thoughts coming at me that at times I felt I needed a bit more time to reflect on what I had just heard.

My friend and I talked about it for an hour after the show and today I ruminated on the theme several times.   This is a great credit to the production.  Theatre can both entertain and cause reflection.  This one did both.

Dave and rhinos 2.jpgAs the actors called out that they had spotted a rhinoceros on the street,  I was reminded of a trip to Uganda in 2013 with my friend, Dave Kay.  We went to a rhino sanctuary where we were out with a guide looking for a few of the (huge) rhinos that lived in the forest there.  We came across a few.  Dave was more brave than I was to get a look at them.  I hung back with my camera – if the rhino charged it would get Dave first.  And our instructions were, if the animal charged to climb a tree.   Can you imagine me scrambling up an acacia with a rhino snorting down on me?  The guide said that when they charged it was usually a false charge and they would stop short.  Usually was the operative word in that sentence for me.   We survived.

Pride 3And to fit the diversity theme, this happens to be Pride weekend in Kingston. Today there was a parade down Princess Street with lots of colour and gaiety in the old sense of the word.

I remembered the first summer I lived in Kingston, there was an article in the Whig Standard with a photo of a same sex kiss-in on the steps of City Hall.  This was seen to be provocative and somewhat astounding.

One report of this incident reads: “Although the ceremony itself lasted only fifteen minutes, it attracted over 400 onlookers and was described as “a kiss that reverberated throughout Kingston.” The public’s responses to the kiss ran the gamut from curiosity to outrage. Most of the crowd applauded, but some showed their disapproval by booing.”

Today there were hundreds of brightly clothed celebrants of diversity in the parade down our main street.  Kids, families, soldiers, church groups, members of parliament.

The rainbow seems to have replaced the rhinoceros.

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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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We have had a delicious smorgasbord of summer theatre in Kingston

It has been a very rich summer for theatre in Kingston with literally hundreds of presentations happening in the downtown core. SFF-2016-Poster-webThe Storefront Festival converted empty spaces into unique venues that offered a wide range of productions over about 10 days.  My favourite was Cul de Sac, a Daniel MacIvor play.  In this one woman show, Anne Marie Bergman, under the direction of Will Britton, presented an engaging story told by several memorable characters. And they were characters indeed.
Blue Canoe, with their usual enthusiasm and energy, presented Chicago at the Baby Grand. This show kept my toe tapping and face in a steady grin throughout.   On a balmy Wednesday night in Market Square behind City Hall,  I enjoyed an evening of Shakespeare – Driftwood Theatre’s Taming of the Shrew.  Outdoor theatre-in-the-round always seems to be the perfect venue for Shakespeare.

AmbroseFor a few weeks,  I worked with a group of Kingston theatre friends on a Single Thread production of Ambrose – Re-imagined.  I  loved this unique theatre experience last year when it was presented for the first time so I was delighted when creator Liam Karry asked me to join the cast for this newly re-imagined  version.  Liam likes to surprise audiences and have them experience theatre in non-traditional settings.   In this show, audience members made a journey through many hidden areas of the Grand Theatre to meet up with characters who have had some connection to the mysterious Ambrose Small.  Ambrose was an Ontario Theatre magnate who disappeared on December 2, 1919 the day after receiving a million dollars for the sale of the many theatres in Ontario that he owned, including Kingston’s Grand.  His spirit is known to haunt the theatre with many people over the years,  actors and employees, having had a ghostly experience in the Grand. The mystery of his disappearance was never solved.

 

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No two audience members at Ambrose had the same experience, ever.  Their exploration of the Ambrose Small history was their own.  Liam told me that he likes the idea that the audience participants are invited to play with us with this material. People who expected to sit and snooze and be entertained may have been a bit overwhelmed  but most of our audience members were wildly enthusiastic.  When they let go and engaged in the process it was delightful and unique – and a lot of fun.   Fun, too for the actors who never knew exactly what was coming next.

 

14047343_1084090548304687_4608973864294042412_oIn mid August  I also took in a Single Thread production of Salt Water Moon that was “staged” on the steps of the University Club, outdoors on a sultry summer evening.  This is a great little play and was wonderfully presented.  The setting was absolutely perfect for this piece.

Kingston has a vibrant theatre community all year around. It takes no summer break. In fact, this summer it ramped up to provide audiences a wonderful selection of productions in a variety of settings.  Thanks to everyone who entertained us so well.

Hip and tragic at the same time

Last night was a remarkable evening in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. The Tragically Hip – a home-town band that gained national popularity and became a Canadian treasure had a nationally televised concert will likely be their last.   Lead singer, Gord Downie,  diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour, led the band on a sort of “last stand” tour across Canada that culminated in the final concert in Kingston on August 20.

The arena was full and the downtown core in Kingston was packed – really packed – with people from far and wide who watched and sang and danced to the concert streamed live on a large screen in Market Square.   Similar gatherings were held across the country.  This was a big deal for Canadians.

Three things stood out for me about this event.

Pano2Firstly, this had the potential to be a huge security risk.  Over 25,000 people jammed into a market square and flowing into the neighbouring streets and the Prime Minister glad-handing people in the street would not only be a terrorist’s dream in some places but the potential for a few drunk yahoo’s to disrupt it was almost unavoidable.   But it didn’t happen.  The crowd was orderly and … Canadian.   Yes there was the occasional, or not so occasional, waft of marijuana.  But that only led to more singing and dancing and air-guitaring.  There was security around but not that evident. No guns on display.  People checking bags at the entry points to the venue were wearing t-shirts, not uniforms.  Everyone was polite. The energy was all celebratory.

PMSecondly, our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau,  an acknowledged Hip fan was there to celebrate with us.  He walked through the mob in Market Square just before the concert and shook hands and took selfies and smiled in his jean jacket and Tragic
ally Hip T-shirt.  His visage only appeared once on the TV screen during the concert when Downie acknowledged him.  And the grip Trudeau has on Downie’s shoulder in the photo of them hugging before the concert was real.

Enlight1Last, but not least, was the courage and determination and resolution that Gord Downie showed in not wallowing in his sorrow and illness but living life to the fullest despite a dismal prognosis.  I was tired from standing the three hours for the concert in the square., How exhausted must he have been after dancing and singing his way through the concert, the last of several this month, despite his recent surgery, radiation and chemo treatments for his cancer.  This, to me, was really something incredible and an example to all of us not to give in to our troubles, but to live every moment fiercely.  We are all dying at some point.

“The trouble is, you think you have time.”  Buddha

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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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Celebrating Spring in Kingston Ontario

Exactly three weeks ago I posted a blog with some photos I took along the shoreline of Lake Ontario in Kingston. (You can see them here) The lake was still covered in ice – enough, in fact, that people were out playing hockey and walking and ice-boating on the lake.

Today is Easter Sunday  – March 27.  It is a gorgeous sunny day. The ice is gone from all but a few corners of the lake. Folks are out with their kids and their dogs and cameras and even a couple of boats are in the water.  What a difference three weeks makes.

Here are some photos I took today, some of them from precisely where I took pictures of the ice on March 6.  I am happy today to be celebrating spring in Kingston.

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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

 

Kingston Canadian Film Festival 2016 – Part 2

So happy that I could take in the Kingston Canadian Film Festival last weekend – ten minutes from where I live.  What a treat.    I saw six movies in 36 hours.  My butt is sore and my eyes are burning but it was an interesting weekend.  Something good about every one of them.

Borealis

How to sum this one up?  A crazy road trip with a 15 year old dope smoking teenage girl who is going blind and her card-shark gambling father from Winnipeg to  Churchill, Manitoba  with a stop in Flin Flon as they try to escape a couple of goons that the dad owes $100,000 and make a trek to see the Northern Lights.  When I write this down it sounds pretty weird but it works, thanks to great screenwriting and acting by  the two main characters as played by Josh Chernick and a very talented young Joey King.  It sounds like this film will be in theatres soon and although there is nothing earth shattering  about it,  it is a good Canadian story that will not disappoint. I talked to someone else after the movie who said “It all felt natural.”  Eh?

Closet Monster

I didn’t know much about this film when I decided to catch it on Sunday morning. It fit my schedule. It went right over my head that it might be about that “closet”.  And really it wasn’t just that.  I also am reluctant to call it a “coming of age” film as that just seems so trite.  The film took us into the world of a young man struggling with separated parents, education choices,  sexual discover,  adolescent friendships and homophobia without making any one of those the only challenge.   I must admit that there were a couple of scenes where the acting, editing and escalating throbbing music put my pulse up and almost made me feel frantic.  I have never been so driven by the sound in a movie before.

Like the others, it is a Canadian made movie with Canadian talent. It was shot almost entirely in Newfoundland (without any Newfie accents).  Lots of closet analogies and symbolism on many fronts.  Great natural acting, direction and a credible screenplay. It won the best Canadian Feature Film award at TIFF in 2015.  The kid in the movie, when asked “Do you feel anything?” honestly replies “I don’t know”.  This kind of sums up the chore of maturing when  you are 18.  Maybe that job never ends.

 

Films I think you should definitely try to catch are Closet Monster, Into the Forest and Borealis.  Now where to catch them is the problem. They are not Hollywood blockbusters and I wonder where they will turn up.  It is really too bad that the movie house market is so dominated by the big name, big budget films.  Look for these Canadian-made gems and support them.

 

 

Kingston Canadian Film Festival 2016 – Part 1

For the past few years I have treated myself to a weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), soaking up movies, lining up with other movie fans and getting the occasional glimpse of Hollywood celebrity.

I have volunteered at the Kingston Canadian Film Festival for a couple of years but never set the weekend aside to enjoy it fully. This year, I have done that, buying a VIP pass that lets me in to any or all of the movies and events.

In the next two blog articles, I will give you a brief rundown of the movies I have seen.

Guantanamo’s Child

This is a thought-provoking documentary based on the Omar Kadr case – a young Canadian man whose family moved to Afghanistan when he was a boy.  He was accused of terrorism and killing an American soldier and after being wounded severely in the firefight when he threw the fatal grenade, he was taken prisoner and subsequently spent 13 years in detention, first in Bagram, Afghanistan  and later in the infamous Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre.  Eventually, with the persistence of an Edmonton lawyer who argued on his behalf, he was transferred into custody in Canada and later released on bail.

The movie revolves around Kadr’s telling of his story (in a remarkably calm and articulate way) and interviews with others that were somehow involved with him over his incarceration time.  It explores the horrible treatment that he and other Guantanamo prisoners have received, ostensibly at the hands of a “civilized” nation like the U.S.A., the complicit cooperation of Canadian officials, the guilt and trauma suffered by one of the American interrogation officers who, after reflecting on the trauma inflicted on Kadr as a kid has become demoralized and suffering from PTSD based on the actions he committed in the name of war.  It is interesting to see how Kadr seems to have overcome to some extent this past, or at least found a way of putting it in a place that allows him to move on, arguably with the help of many hours of psychotherapy and how this US solder is suffering much more intently from his actions and, one wonders, with what kind of support.  Both men were caught up in war and acted at the time in a way that was expected of them and perhaps natural in terms of self defence or knee-jerk response to their situations.  Kadr, a kid at the time, is incarcerated as a dangerous terrorist.  The solder was just doing his job. Who will suffer longer?

Unforsaken

This is a western so full of clichés and so predictable in it’s dialogue and plot line that it is almost laughable.  But that is also its appeal.  It is the traditional spaghetti western, gunslingers, bad grammar, an evil land baron threatening the town, a thwarted love story, revenge, street shootout, bullets breaking bottles in the saloon and men shot off the roof and crashing through the balcony to the street below. I have seen almost the same thing acted out in ten minutes by stunt men at Universal Studios in Florida.

But this one has both Kiefer and Donald Sutherland in it, along with Demi Moore and Brian Cox.  It was shot in Alberta, just outside Calgary at a town set up specifically as a movie location – CL Western Town. (you can read about this filming location here)  The movie is about to be released in Canada and apparently is doing very well on the pay-per-view circuit and will be on the Canadian iTunes store next week.

LIt was fun to have one of the producers, who went to Lasalle High School in Kingston many years ago, and a couple of the Canadian actors, including bad guy Aaron Poole, at a question and answer period after the movie.  Poole was booed as he was introduced – a response to his hard-hearted character in the movie. He loved it.

The Messenger

This is documentary focusing on the decline in songbird populations around the world.  It seemed a bit disjointed to me, many short vignettes from around the world showing the various conditions that are interfering with songbird survival – climate change, domestic cats,  noise and light pollution, insecticides.  But how to solve this?  Eradicate cats that kill 1.4 billion songbirds every year and were described as an invasive species introduced by man and equivalent to Zebra Mussels? Or maybe it would be. better to wipe out mankind since it is us who is disrupting the balances of nature.  Given time we may do that ourselves.If you are interested in this topic the movie also has a good website with lots of resources associated with this film at http://songbirdsos.com

 

Into the Forest

This was an engaging and at times disturbing movie about two young women facing an apocalypic scenario somewhere on the west coast of North America in the near future.  It reminded me of other survival films like Gravity or The Martian or even Night of the Living Dead but for me it was much more effective and realistic and because of that i could relate to the challenges and was never quite sure how it was going to turn out.  Also great to see the two protagonists being resourceful yet vulnerable young women – played admirably by Ellen Page and  Evan Rachel Wood.  I was not quite on the edge of my seat but found myself totally immersed in this struggle and definitely leaning forward on my chair. I would much prefer this movie to some of the big blockbusters with CGI and a more fantastical basis.  This one was believable.

I can’t seem to find a trailer for this movie.  This is pretty cool. No warning about what is in the film.  So no spoilers from me either.  Here is a still of the two main characters. Sisters caught in an apocalypse.

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Stay tuned for Part 2.

 

 

Bubbles II…an answer perhaps?

As a result of my last blog entry, friends have responded with information about a local organization that is working to help Syrian refugees come to Canada – Kingston area in particular.

The group recommended by two of my friends is the Four Rivers Presbytery at Seeley’s Bay.

Lori Rand reports:

A small group of us here in Kingston are mobilizing.  We are partnering with a local organization that has brought one family to Kingston in July, and are in the process of getting ready to receive another family at the end of September.  They are currently in a bunker in Lebanon.  Learn more about who they are and their story here.

This incredible work has been done by Dawn Clarke, a Minster at the Perth Road United Church, and a team from the Four Rivers Presbytery in Seeley’s Bay, and the Kingston Islamic Society.  They still need $25,000 to make this happen – to sustain the financial one-year commitment to the current family, and have the funds for the second family.  The hard work of receiving approval from Citizenship and Immigration Canada is already done, but missing link is the financial resources.

Here’s where you can donate.  This money goes directly to getting this family to Kingston and supporting the family that just arrived.  If you are more comfortable writing a cheque, information can be found here in the left hand column. 

Rick Cairns adds this information:

John, I can assure you that aside from the cost of printing some pamphlets and setting up a website, this group is putting every single dollar raised toward sponsoring and settling these families.
An overpaid CEO, you ask? In fact, Save A Family From Syria is a 100% volunteer group.
As far as having “a concrete plan in place to actually bring a refugee family or families to Canada”, you’ll be pleased to know that one family is here, with children starting school next week, and another family (with 4 children) will be arriving in the last week of September.
It is the intention of this group to continue to sponsor more families in the future.

I have reviewed all this and made a donation to this group.  I will await other responses to see if there are more local groups doing something similar.  I encourage you to look into this one, however, and open your hearts and your wallet to help them achieve their goals. It’s the Canadian way, is it not?

 Once again – Here’s a quick link where you can donate right now using a credit card to a local group actively sponsoring Syrian refugee families to come to Kingston area. Tax receipts are issued for donations to this cause.

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As the crisis in Syria enters its fourth year, the Aljalim family needs your help.