Joys of Tropical Paradise

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Those of us living in northern climes long for the joys of tropical paradise. We escape the cold and snow for a couple of weeks of sun and sand down south. The beaches lure us, the beer refreshes us, the music warms us, the sun burns us—and we’re happy.

But, the reality of tropical climate doesn’t affect us unless we spend time during the “off season.”

Then it’s:

Rust – all metal suffers, from the inside of the dryer to the bike, the car, the braces holding the air conditioner or the satellite dish….

Painting – over and over and over again each year as the humidity bubbles and peels and wears the best paint job away.

Rain – washing away the garden, pouring through the best sealed doors and windows, leaking through the roof, saturating the concrete walls….

Floods – rather not talk about those. Fish swimming in the back yard isn’t exactly desirable.

Replacing – televisions with screens spotted by moisture, furniture ruined by humidity and flooding….

Bugs – and more bugs—cockroaches, scorpions, frogs, crabs….

I love my holiday time in the tropics, but for the rest of the year I promise to appreciate fully life in Canada.

New! from Dan O’Brien – Mobsters, Monsters & Nazis

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Well, the time has come to announce Dan O’Brien’s latest project: Mobsters, Monsters & Nazis: a collaboration between Dan O’Brien and Steve Ferchaud, who illustrated Conspirators of the Lost Sock Army and the Loose Change Collection Agency. What I am revealing today is the sketches for some of the interior illustrations (which will be black and white) of the first issue. It will be released as six issues (eBooks) starting on Halloween. It is influenced by film noir, pulp comics, and an abiding love of Lovecraft. It is now available for pre-order and Dan will be promoting it heavily starting in the month of October. He would love to hear what you think of it so far! Visit him at: http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com/ or on Twitter, @AuthorDanOBrien

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Pecking Order

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The assistant principal has been asked to give a “talk” to the grade seven class. The teacher is concerned about how they are mistreating each other.

He goes out to their portable, glowers at the students and says,

“Every morning I sit at the table and watch the birds in the tree out the window. They have what’s called a pecking order and I see the bigger ones peck at the smaller ones. I see the smaller ones going without food and shivering in the cold. They’re bullies, those bigger birds pecking away at the weaker ones. Your teacher tells me that’s what’s happening in this class.”

He pauses to glower again. Students squirm in their seats and avoid his gaze.

“Some of you …,” he shakes his finger at them. “Some of you are being mean and bullying your classmates. You’re young men and women, not birds. The pecking has to stop. If it doesn’t, I’ll be dealing with you. Remember, I’m the biggest pecker here.”

We could hear the ensuing laughter throughout the building.

 

Girdle Testing

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“The doctor says she needs to wear a full body girdle after her surgery. She has one, but here they are made of rubbery material. You can imagine how uncomfortable that will be. Could you get her one while you’re in Canada?” asks my neighbor.

“Sure,” I say. We’ll be home for only a couple of days to do some business, but I can squeeze in a trip to the store. “How do I know what size?”

“I’ll get you the one she has to take with you.”

My aunt and I go girdle shopping and find two we think will work. Back in Mexico I deliver the girdles. I find Papa and a couple of her brothers in the street in front of the family restaurant. I ask for her, but she’s not home so I pass the bag to Papa.

He pulls out a girdle and holds it up against his ample belly, then holds it at arm’s length and pulls it this way and that to test the elastic. I glance up and down the street, but, thankfully, no one seems to be paying him any notice.  But then, why am I surprised at that? Life in Mexico is often lived in the street.

Papa and the brothers have a lengthy discussion of the pros and cons of my purchase, check out the second girdle and finally deem them suitable. Papa sends one of the brothers to the till to get the money to pay me.

I never do meet her to ask if the girdles were a good fit. I can only hope.

A Generation Gap or Two

Korean food

“Hello, Mr. K. This is Mrs. Jones calling. Can you come in to school for a parent/teacher interview?”

“No. Is not possible.”

Well, okay then. His daughter was an honor student. No need really to meet with the parents, but still …

The next day, L handed me a note. It was an invitation for me and my family to dine at her father’s restaurant on Sunday evening.

“You eat Korean before?” Mr. K asked as the hostess seated us at a table.

“No.”

He took the menus away. “I bring. You eat.” And eat we did. A delicious array of new tastes and smells.

After the meal Mr. K pulled up a chair. “My kids. They look in mirror all day. Go to movies. Wear jeans. Makeup. No work.”

“But, Mr. K,” I said. “L is an honors student. Her marks are all in the 90s.”

“Bah! Why not 100%? When I come to Canada I work many years in tar sands. Finally, I have enough money. Come here. Open Taekwondo club. Then restaurant. My kids. No work. No speak Korean. No want to go back visit family.” Dramatic gestures accompanied his words. Sounds of disgust punctuated his sentences.

“But, Mr. K, your kids are great students. L and her brother have good marks. They work hard.”

“Bah!”

And that was pretty much the end of the interview. I learned later that L’s brother contemplated suicide. Fortunately, he never acted on it. Both L and her brother went on to be successful professionals, but I’m guessing Mr. K would have still had doubts about his children.

 

 

Raymond comes with gifts

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Raymond comes for another visit and, as usual, loaded down with suitcases full of gifts. As he pulls items from the cases and checks the list his wife has given him, we see that she hasn’t left anyone out.

Hand woven baskets for the moms, snake and iguana skin wallets (that I know from experience will never wear out), beaded bracelets for the girls, and handcrafted artifacts for the men and boys.

Raymond cross checks the items with the list. “Non, ce ne sont pas pour vous.”

AgfaPhotoSeeing that none of these are meant for us, he repacks the case and opens the second. He pulls out a massive wooden something.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Je ne sais pas.”

“But, Raymond.” I can’t resist teasing him. “You’re Malian, don’t you know what this is?”

He shakes his head and refers to his wife’s list.”

“C’est un piguet de tente.”

Light bulbs flash. A tent peg which can only be from the Tuareg of the Sahara.

What a unique gift. One we will always treasure.

What a sad gift.

Why sad?

Well, the fact that the Tuareg are selling basic items of their life tells us something of the dire straits they are in.

Look at them now!

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Twice a year Malcolm Macartney flies to the beach town of Guayabitos. Does he go to laze in the sun? To sip margaritas?  Nope. He goes to spend long hours bent over makeshift operating tables.

Malcolm and veterinary technicians from McKenzie Veterinary Services and other vet clinics in BC, participate in free spay and neuter clinics in the Jaltemaba Bay area in Nayarit, Mexico.

At the conclusion of every clinic they bring back for adoption in Canada, anywhere from 6 to 14 small to medium sized dogs. Some of these dogs have special veterinary care requirements for medical problems or surgeries that can be better performed at McKenzie Veterinary Services before they are well enough to be adopted. The Mexi-Can Vet Project adoption fees collected for each dog are passed onto JBAR—Jaltemba Bay Animal Rescue—to maintain their animal shelter in that area.

And here the dogs are now, living the good life in Canada—partying at the Mexi-Can Vet Project reunion party in Victoria. A party complete with a piñata containing candy for the kids and milk bones for the dogs.

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For more information go to:

http://www.jaltembabaylife.com/community/jaltemba-bay-animal-rescue

http://mckvets.com/about-us/mexi-can-vet-project-2/videos-slideshow-photos/

Victoria – the Jewel of Canada

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We’re here! Living in the city again and what a city it is. Victoria, British Columbia—buzzing with tourists and citizens. Cruise ships, water taxis, and float planes dot the harbor. History and modernity comingle in the downtown core.

An online search will tell you that: Victoria, capital of British Columbia, is known as “The Garden City” due to the abundance of gardens and city parks, Victoria also has an impressive selection of historic sites and heritage architecture. Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, with British settlement beginning in 1843. The city’s Chinatown is the second oldest in North America after San Francisco’s. 

Museums in Victoria cover everything from Aboriginal culture to science and nature. This is also the home of the Royal BC Museum and the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.

See floral displays year-round or wander through a castle. Take a Victoria whale-watching tour to enjoy the natural surroundings and to look for Orcas, sea lions and more. 

What the descriptions can’t give you is the sense of excitement, the bustle of activity, the air of adventure … everything from the Butchart Gardens to zip lines, from the IMAX to miles of bike trails, from Fishermans’ Wharf to the Bug Zoo.

Go whale watching, take a horse drawn carriage ride, dine in one of the many fine restaurants and bistros, high tea at the Empress Hotel, coffee at Murchies …. Festivals and concerts abound—something for everyone.

Yes, we love it here already.

 

Peace and Quiet

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“We need you to interview a couple who have applied to teach in our province,” said the government voice at the end of the line.

“O-kay,” I said wondering why they couldn’t do it themselves.

“They’re from Lebanon and they only speak Arabic and French.”

Aha, that explained it. We had many immigrants coming into our city from war-torn areas of the world and the Lebanese civil war was on-going at the time.

“We need you to evaluate their French language competency.”

A date and time were set and I met the couple in the appointed government office. I talked to each of them in turn.

The wife was shy and timid, but her French was fine. The husband was more willing to talk about conditions in Lebanon.

“I was a teacher,” he said. “They took my job away and sent me to work at the airport. Every morning I said good-bye to my family not knowing if I would see them again. Every morning a guard pointed a gun in my chest and asked me to produce my identification. The same guard. Every morning. As if he didn’t know who I was. Bombs. Killing. Beirut was once the Paris of the Middle East. No longer. Such destruction.”

He took a deep breath. “We were so lucky to come to Canada. We had to come. I couldn’t risk the lives of my wife, my children.”

He paused for a moment as if gathering himself. “It’s so quiet here. You have peace. It’s so quiet here.”

All these years later, especially as I watch the news of war and strife around the world, one phrase echoes in my head. “It’s so quiet here.”

 

 

 

 

There is a teacher god

skorIt’s a new school year and the grade 7 students, having left the safety of elementary behind, are intimidated by the size of the building, by the size of the grade nine students, by the new routine of changing classes for each subject.

I love the grade sevens. They’re cute and wide eyed and nervous. I’ll love them when they’re young ladies and gentlemen leaving junior high and headed to high school where they’ll be the little guys again.

The class comes into my room and one little guy at the front of the row whispers, “Mme. Jones, I forgot my cahier.”

“You forgot your cahier,” I whisper back in mock shock. “What are we going to do?”

“I don’t know,” his voice is so quiet, I can hardly hear him.

I squat down to be at eye level. “I know,” I say with a wink. “You’ll have to bring me a chocolate bar and then I proceed to get the class started on the lesson.

Early the next morning, the little guy arrives at my door holding out a Crispy Crunch.

“What’s this for?” I ask.

“You said I had to bring you a chocolate bar.”

“Oh, sweetie, I was joking. Here, let’s share.” I break the bar in half and send him on his way.

A couple of weeks later, it’s meet the teacher night and his parents come in. I’m embarrassed to meet them. They must think I’m a monster, that junior high is terrible after the sheltered world of elementary.

“I’m so sorry,” I say.

My comment is greeted with puzzled looks. “What for?”

“Didn’t your son tell you what happened?”

“He only said he had to bring his French teacher a chocolate bar.”

I relate the story and to my immense relief they laugh. “You’re his favorite teacher,” they tell me. Thank goodness for understanding parents and great kids.