2016

Many are saying 2016 was a terrible year because of the large number of celebrities who died over the last twelve months. It was – I am sure – horrible for the friends and families of those celebrities; and fans will need time to mourn.

If we’ve learned one thing from 2016, it’s how to make a talented stranger’s death a declaration of our own fine taste and sensitivity.

— Julia Williams (@juliawriter) December 30, 2016

Condemning 2016 as ‘horrible’ seems a bit arrogant though. After so many years of living in the shadow of Baby Boomers, it seems a bit hypocritical for Generation X’ers (like myself) to claim that our experience is the same experience for everyone else.

If you want to proclaim 2016 a shit year because of the millions of people killed and displaced by war, poverty, bigotry, mass murder, natural disasters and climate change, I won’t argue.

For me personally, 2016 was pretty darned good (not listed in order of importance):

  1. This was the year I found full time meaningful work in my new career (nearly at my 1-year anniversary).
  2. I recently became a fully accredited social worker in Alberta.
  3. I am further away from (and more aware of) the depression that took hold of my life several years ago.
  4. Our young children are growing ever more cool with each passing month.
  5. Canada is waking up from our long-held ignorance of the the horrendous ordeals we forced Indigenous peoples to endure for 150+ years (visit http://www.trc.ca).
  6. For all of 2016, the Liberal Party was in charge of Canada’s government. For me, this goodness is mostly because we have now moved further away from the decade of recent Conservative rule.
  7. Barack Obama was still President of the USA for all of 2016.  Still a bit shocked that Trump will be President for most of 2017 but this post isn’t about 2017.
  8. We also had the entirety of 2016 with an NDP government in Alberta. For me, this remains a nice change after 40+ years of intense neoliberalism.
  9. Alberta’s economy seems to be improving.
  10. 2016 is a year we can remind ourselves that even though we lost LGBTQ and feminist icons – like David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Vera Rubin and (most recently) Carrie Fisher – they were here when we needed them and they lived lives that were inspirational to a great many folks.
  11. I now think even more often of the musical genius of Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, and Mose Allison.

For everyone who is experiencing loss, I hope you are able to take the time for mourning and I wish you well for 2017 and beyond.

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Racist Memes

Lately, I have seen way too many racist memes and text on social media and racist policy from our government. Much of these messages include untrue stereotypes and conflated comparisons so I have decided to make a list of truths.

The following list contains truths as I see them. I am a white, atheist male born in Canada so I do not purport to be an expert on the Muslim faith. I am open to learning though…

Debunking Canadian racism against persons of Muslim faith (in no particular order):

  1. Newcomers are not going to ‘steal your jobs’ and they are not going to drain the economy. Canada has welcomed newcomers for hundreds of years and, for the most part, our economy has continually grown.
  2. Refugees from Syria are largely educated and secular. They are not responsible for civil war in Syria. They are civilians and are not a threat to Canada.
  3. Citizenship should be permanent. And if government insists on policy to remove citizenship from those deemed to be convicted terrorists, it should be removed by a rational-thinking judge using evidence and  NOT by politicians.
  4. Muslims do NOT hate Jesus. Jesus is a prophet in the Qur’an.
  5. Muslims do NOT hate beer. Some abstain and some drink tasty craft beer.
  6. Burkas, Niqabs and Hijabs are all different and not all Muslim women wear them. Descriptions can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk
  7. Various forms of head coverings are also worn by Christians and Jews.
  8. If you think the Qur’an is about war and terror, try reading the Old Testament.
  9. The Klu Klux Klan cover their faces to avoid being caught committing hate crimes. Some women cover their faces for reasons of modesty. The KKK is not comparable to women of faith.
  10. Two women in approximately 700,000 immigrants have requested to wear a niqab during Canadian citizenship ceremonies and Conservatives made it into an election issue.
  11. Banning the niqab at citizenship ceremonies and other public events will only act to further oppress Muslim women.
  12. Many Muslim women who wear head coverings are strong, feminist women.
  13. The presence of terrorism was, at least partly, created by western meddling in the middle east. ISIS didn’t exist before US invaded Iraq following the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
  14. Neither Iraq nor ISIS were involved with the attack on the World Trade Center in New York.
  15. Christians are not judged and branded as KKK members and Muslims should not be judged and branded as terrorists.
  16. Sharia law is not coming to Canada.
  17. If you are worried that newcomers will change your way of life for the worse, you probably don’t know many newcomers. The only newcomers to significantly change the way of life in Canada were early Europeans who invaded and oppressed those who were already living here.
  18. Diversity is awesome! Diversity can be celebrated and we can all learn new things when meeting persons of cultures different from our own.

Please feel free to use any of the above with or without credit. Just please spread truth and peace rather than hate and racism.

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Rasta Men

My last night of three months in St. Lucia

Ani and Zioni invited my to sit between them on their bench as they sat at the end of the day to to watch ‘reality TV’. To feel the vibe as cars and people moved to-and-fro after the sun had set.

Ani is a carver who speaks with a quiet and calm voice.  Zioni (Dudley is his birth name) makes and sells jewelry mostly made of beads. I think he also works on carving with Ani as his mentor. Judging by the fist-bumps, handshakes and words of peace from passersby, Ani and Zioni are respected people.

We sat and shared stories and thoughts on St. Lucia, Canada, United Kingdom and Japan.  We discussed differences with positivity. Both men enjoy the slower pace in St. Lucia and I mentioned how I walked slower and slower as the weeks in St. Lucia added in numbers.

I recall a couple of weeks ago though when I was walking in Castries during lunch hour. I thought I was walking slowly but gained pace on three women. I was behind them for a bit trying to walk slowly but was uncomfortable because I didn’t want them to think I was following too close to them.  One woman looked back and moved over while they laughed, “You have somewhere to go?”

I laughed with them – we all knew that I indeed had nowhere to go quickly.  I passed in really slow motion while trying to make an effort not too walk too fast. I was walking slowly but not as slow as those who walk really slow – I suppose. Which reminds me of the time nuns were driving us to Laborie and they were mentioning the “Sunday drivers” – we needed to get somewhere and the other vehicles were going too slowly.

So there we were, sitting on the bench chatting about life, language and love with a couple dried leaves burning under us to keep the mosquitoes away… The mosquitoes have become more prevalent since the big rains on Thursday. People were walking by showing respect to Ani and Zioni and I was also offered fist-bumps.

I recalled another time I was walking past when Zioni invited me to join he and Ani by the water where they were roasting cashews. I remember wishing I wasn’t in a hurry but I was walking to the store and needed to get back for when a friend was picking us up. They shared some freshly roasted cashews and they were delicious – they offered me to take a bunch with me but I had no bag.

To roast the cashews, they built a small fire and placed cashews on a pan. The oil in the nuts catches fire and you hear a roaring-fire sound – the fire was hot but not out of control. Once they were finished, they dumped the nuts on the ground to cool. Then they would just gently smash the nut and the cashew was free of its husk. You can find an examples of the process at https://youtu.be/Fil18GLYwTA and https://vimeo.com/95586083.

There were other moments with Ani and Zioni over the last few months as I walked by on the way from work or as I walked to town on weekends.  All moments were genuine and they never asked for anything (we did of course, pay for their time teaching the children to carve and for several items of jewelry but they never asked for anything when they gave gifts of mangoes, cashews or time).

Respect to you Ani and Zioni…

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The Rains Came

After a long period of relative drought, it rained today in St. Lucia. And let me tell ya’ gassa, it rained seereeously.

The bus came OECS bus came early to take us to the public buses because it had rained all day and there were reports of flooding.  When we got in to downtown Castries, the streets the ditches/storm sewers were flooded, the streets were flooded and shopkeepers were either watching the water nervously or they were pushing the water back from their doorways to avoid indoor flooding.  We drove though water that was up past the wheel wells – steam coming off of hot brake pads and engines as the vehicles went deeper.

An article in the St. Lucia Times read:

“Persistent heavy rainfall over Saint Lucia over the past few hours has raised the possibility of flooding and landslides in parts of the island prone to those hazards, the Saint Lucia Meteorological Services has said.”

On the way home to Rodney Bay, the ride was fairly smooth but visibility was way down and emergency vehicles were barreling down the middle of the two-lane highway. Traffic going toward Castries was backed up forever – must have been a large accident.

I used the umbrella family brought when they visited for the first time and I was still soaking wet upon reaching home.

I think this is just ‘rainy season’ weather but I could be wrong. Climate change is real in the Caribbean and the effects create strange weather: Christmas Eve flooding wreaked havoc in 2013, recent drought conditions, wild fires and difficulties for subsistence farmers.

Excerpt from St. Lucia Times on a 2015 Climate Change Initiative:
“Climate Justice also recognises that it is the poorest and weakest in society, that are and will be the most vulnerable to climate change and its impacts on agriculture, fisheries, settlements and infrastructure.”

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Gassa

In a May blog post, I mentioned Patois – also known here as Creole or Kwéyòl (click here for a PDF Kwéyòl to English dictionary) – and then in June I wrote about being called “white boy“.

A couple weeks ago, we were facilitating a train-the-trainer meeting on the pilot program we ran in a secondary school focused on preventing sexual exploitation. Skits were used in the pilot and we were pleased to hear a skit written locally for the program.  That was when I first noticed hearing people being referred to as ‘gassa’.  Turns out ‘gassa’ is from the Kwéyòl word ‘gason’ which comes from the French word ‘Garçon’ which means ‘boy’ in English. 

Today I noticed men calling each other ‘gassa’ during conversation and that’s when it hit me – being called ‘boy’ isn’t necessarily derogatory in St. Lucia. This of course got me thinking about being called ‘white boy’ on Jeremie Street in Castries.

Earlier in my three-month St. Lucian life, I came across this video and didn’t understand much of it – now I get it. But jeesh, I will never get used to the extended hissing kiss sound.  Men should never do that to women – like never.

I’ll end this post now with a song that is currently popular here about ‘wining’ and ‘ducking’.

Bonnapwémidi gassa!

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