Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Toronto rain

It's raining in Toronto right now.

It's a light misty rain. The kind of rain in which you can see the column of the CN Tower, but not the bulbous observation deck and certainly not the spire. The kind of rain that cools your face, refreshing you. The kind of rain that doesn't get you wet, but does get your toes wet since the tips of your shoes kick up drops of water from curbside puddles.

I have three stories to tell. They're actually all the same story, just told from different locations, times and perspectives. They are not all my stories, but in a way all stories are my stories too once I've heard them or read them.

A man breaks up with his girlfriend of a long time. This is never easy since feelings never flow only in one direction. But he's done it, and feels it is the best decision he could make hard as it may be. Though the pain is raw he won't intellectualize the pain. He won't describe and categorize and sort and file the pain. Instead he sits beside the pain, camps out next to it, just to be with it and, maybe, someday, to let it go.

A woman moves to the big city to work with refugees arriving from all over the world. The refugees are claimants, their future not yet secure in their new home. Asked what her work is, what services she provides to the refugees, she has little to say. There isn't really lots of things to do other than certain administrative, bureaucratic tasks, she says. Mostly I am simply here with them, here to sit beside them as they tell their stories, here to be with them in their frustrations and tears and laughter and small celebrations.

Two men, one in from out of town for a visit, arrive at a small lake by car. As they start their walk in the fresh air the older man asks the younger man if, next time, he would not slam his car door shut. Of course. They talk, and stroll, and get back in the car and drive home. Before they re-enter the small apartment the older man says that, while he knows the younger man doesn't realize it, he had slammed the car door again. Sorry.

Little over a year later, sitting on a quiet park bench, the younger man realizes what the older man was talking about. He writes an email to his friend telling him so.

In Alberta it doesn't often rain like this. Maybe it's a function of the nearby lake, or maybe the natural humidity. It certainly doesn't rain like this in January.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Back in Akwaaba House.

The conference is over, and we've made the drive back to our Toronto halfway home: Akwaaba House, 12 Treford Place, a bit south of College.

Yesterday was floor polish and elbow grease. We took this place apart and put it back together piece by piece. What was two days ago a highly lived house where you might hang your hat for a time now feels a bit more like home. The process from 'house' to 'home' was captured brilliantly via the time lapse feature of Nick Jimenez's digital camera. Watching five hours of hard work played out over fifteen minutes of sped up footage might seem belittling, but it was a bit of a rush seeing how things all came together.

At the same time, I think we all came together.

Life at home in Akwaaba House is like bunking with your friends every day at summer camp. We are all fast becoming friends and having a good laugh together as we learn each others' idiosyncrasies. As always, everyone washes the dishes differently: some wash a lot, then rinse, some rinse as they go, some pre-rinse, other over-sud. Nick had never seen milk in a bag before (I was only spared this shock by living in Michigan for two early childhood years) and poured the milk into the jug instead of adding the bag and snipping the corner. Everyone peels oranges differently.

I've never lived with so many other people who love what they do, love the work they've chosen, read so much, work so hard, and are generally such a cheery, immediately likable lot.

Friday, January 18, 2008

En route à Montréal

(Written Tuesday 15 January)

From the back seat of a rental Chevrolet mini-van, in front of the soft glow of a dimmed laptop screen, listening to conversations of development murmured in the front seats and the undulating hum of highway beneath our wheels.

The EWB National Conference 2008 begins in Montreal tomorrow. As one of the eleven LTOV08s (Long-term Overseas Volunteer 2008) I’ll be part of a forward-looking meeting with other LTOV past and present, along with EWB management. The meeting begins at 9 AM tomorrow and there are still documents to review and responses to write before then.

Shea and Sarah are fast asleep in two of the four front bucket seats. Levi drives and talks with Russ, while Jeremy taps away on his MacBook next to me. It’s two more hours until midnight and we’re at least that far away from Montreal.

This is only the second day of my formal pre-departure training quarterbacked from downtown Toronto. Something struck me at 10 AM this morning while returning from a Tim Horton’s coffee break to our second morning session. Chatting with John-Paul, a chemical engineer employed only weeks ago with Syncrude the insight materialized: this training group is, for all intensive purposes, the most potent learning environment I’ve ever inhabited.

We are diverse, bright lights of thought illuminating issues from many different perspectives. We are passionate and interested and eager to make learning our business. It’s an open environment full of challenging questions, of probing, or thoughtfulness and reflection and even insight. When we return home at the end of the day we make a stop to pick up groceries to cook a house dinner, we clean-up together, we sip tea and talk and revisit with new questions and new angles all the issues we just spent hours trying to wrestle to the ground.

I think we’re almost in Kingston now. The highway is full of long-haul trucks carrying their payloads or empty trailers up and down the 401. Their red and amber running lights illuminate Russ’ face as we slip them by. The dim outlines of jagged rock walls can be made out just beyond the shoulder of the highway a sight seen in Jasper, but not on the plains of the Peace country, Edmonton or Calgary.

Today and here is a time and a place that it is good to live in, good to learn in.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

testing 1, 2, 3

This post is simply to kick things off, to get the inaugural post out the way, and to make sure everything is working a-okay.