Christmas with the Crazies

"Where do you think you're going? Nobody's leaving. Nobody's walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We're all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We're gonna press on, and we're gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse." ~ Clark Griswold (National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation)

I head home for the holidays on the 23rd. Home to the Maritimes, home to my friends, home to my family. If you've read my previous posts, you know how different I am from my family (those fundamental differences that make everything oh, so interesting) and one of these particular differences were recently highlighted in an email I received from my sister. I recently received my "itinerary" for my entire holiday vacation - each day laid out with where I will be and who I will be with. Every moment accounted for, every interaction pre-planned. This made me laugh, as opposed to cry, because I am unfortunately used to it. Oddly enough, I was just super happy that time with my friends was actually planned into my vacation schedule.

My parents wonder why I spend my holidays drinking copious amounts of alcohol and I wonder to myself, doesn't every one cope with their family during the holidays by drinking excessively? It's so effective! The more I drink, the funnier they become.

There'd better be a case of wine waiting for me.

I'm Alive!

"Few people know how to be old." ~ François de la Rochefoucauld (Writer)

My mother is succumbing to "old age" at 63. Not 73 or 83 - 63. Her new favorite saying is, "I'm too old to deal with this," which could involve pretty much anything. She has taken to sleeping all the time, is gaining more weight due to the over consumption of everything within her line of vision, and will not walk anywhere. Not even from her car in the parking lot of the mall to her very favorite stores. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if she soon starts to insist on having someone push her around the mall in a wheelchair, despite the fact that she is totally able bodied. She hurt her back about a year ago and was never so proud as the day she received her handicapped sticker for her car so she could park even closer and walk even less. All she does is watch fucking Coronation Street.

So today, when I stumbled upon the link below, I sent to it her with the message of, if you are so determined to be old, please choose to be old like this.

Wonder what her response will be. Please watch and be entertained. 

The Hockey Punch

"In Canada, you're not a hockey player until you've lost some teeth." ~ Andy Bathgate (Professional Canadian Hockey Player)

You might be wondering what the hell hockey has to do with my trip to Africa....and I'm going to tell you. Nothing. Nothing outside of the link I am about to make. My mom was recently asking me how I plan to protect myself while in Africa, meaning should I be kidnapped, raped, and tortured, what's my plan of action? In not knowing how to answer this question, but wanting to appease my mother's worry, I told her that I wanted to perfect the art of the hockey punch. You know, the ol' pull the jersey over your opponents head and start wailing on him punch. What?? was her reply. I explained that in Africa, no one would see this move coming.

The humor was lost on her.

If you'd like to see a demonstration of the ol' hockey punch, you can see it here:

Pool Rockets

"Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save." ~ Will Rogers (American Cowboy, Comedian)

My sister and I have developed on the opposite ends of a very long spectrum. But comparatively to the differences between the moon and the sun, there are also similarities between us much like how the sun and the moon share the same sky for the purpose of  illuminating us here on earth. Cut from the same cloth, yet sewn very differently. My sister is conservative and introverted, married her high school sweetheart who she never lived with prior to marriage, would never even consider smoking a joint or getting a tattoo, likes safe automobiles, enjoys making crafts, and lives a quiet and sensible life. Me, on the other hand, I am extremely liberal and loud, have never owned anything of any significance, avoid commitment like the plague, have smoked more joints than I care to define and have many tattoos with more in mind, and experience love with reckless abandon without considering consequences. That's all to say that the advice my sister gave me about Africa this past summer, while sipping "pool rockets"  (alcoholic drinks consumed around a pool...there are also walking rockets, party rockets...well, any kind of rocket, really) on a hot, sunny day while on holidays together was fairly uncharacteristic. 

I believe it went something like this: "Just fucking do it. Get the time off, get a loan from the bank and go for as long as you possibly can." 

Hmmmmm. "Yes, I suppose I could do that." So, that's what I did.

My sister isn't someone I've always gone to for advice. And in the times I have done so, there's been many times I did not listen or wished I had never asked in the first place. However, as I have gotten older and my sister has gotten cooler, I have come to realize that she's one of the only people I know who gives really sound advice. Probably because she's normal. 

A week later, back at work, I booked a meeting with my supervisor and the executive director to discuss just how long I could push this Africa trip, as five weeks was already a go. Much to my chagrin, the first opportunity they had to meet with me was three weeks away. I started a countdown on my desktop. September 22. On the afternoon before the meeting, when I was quite literally, but very quietly, bouncing off the walls about, my supervisor emails me to tell me the executive director couldn't make it. Remember that balloon sound that I mentioned in my last post.....that again. Unfortunately, this was not uncharacteristic of the executive director, so I emailed him to see if we could move the date to a time when he could attend. 

The week before, I had spent hours preparing for this meeting. I developed a thorough proposal for extended time off that accounted for everything that needed to be taken into consideration for me to be able to take more time off. I had sent them both the proposal a few days before the meeting so they could review my thoughts and ideas. The most considerable portion of the proposal surrounded the benefits to my agency should they let me have the time off to go to Africa. This required some creativity and commitments on my part....all of which are totally worth it. Surprisingly, my executive director re-arranged his schedule so the meeting could occur.

In my work place, coming up with obstacles as to why a plan of action cannot take place is a past time. Unfortunately, we are not the best problem solvers; however, we are awesome problem creators. Given this, it was much to my shock (and delight) when both my supervisor and executive director transformed into problem solvers right before my eyes. I won't get into the conversation, however, I will get to the final decision. I was approved for 8 weeks of time off to travel to Africa.....and that's all that really matters.

The next step, following my sister's very sound advice, was to secure a line of credit from the bank, as my ass was certainly not going to be able to save enough money for an adventure of this magnitude. Never gonna happen. Again, I was super pleased to find out that the bank will give practically anyone funds that they cannot afford to pay back. After signing some simple forms, $10,000 was put directly into my bank account with a low interest rate. Fantastic. Now, you might be asking....what in the hell did I need that much money for? Well, flights are around $2000-2500, the medication/shots needed are about $550, spending money while there, covering my salary while all adds up - QUICKLY. And, besides that, I knew that I'd want an Africa-memorial tattoo upon return and I wanted $1000 put aside for that adventure. 

Let's recap. As of this point, I now had:
- 8 weeks off work; 
- $10000 to travel with; and,
- a place to volunteer at.

Everything fell into place, as everything had prior to this moment, as everything had since making the decision to go to Africa in the first place. My countdown has now changed to my anticipated date of departure and, as of today, it sits at 256 days. 


The Catholic Church, in all of its infinite wisdom, is attempting to protect the world from the Evils of Gays. In fact, in the states a Catholic Church recently closed down an adoption/fostering program for children in making a statement that gay people should not be allowed to adopt/foster children. So basically, the Catholic Church feels it is their duty to protect children from the gay people in this world, yet apparently feels no duty to protect children from pedophile priests. How interesting.


"We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." ~ Joseph Campbell (American Mythologist, Writer & Lecturer). 

To be honest, I didn't have a planned life to get rid of, making the transition into a new life far easier. I don't plan ahead, I don't save for retirement. I rent an apartment because I refuse to purchase a house and I can't imagine living with another person or getting married. I am okay living with some financial debt, as I know it is my reality. When I die, I just want to keel over, untroubled by the events, accomplishments and misfortunes of my life. This is me. I have wasted so much time and there's no more time to waste. Wine should be drank. Music should be listened to loudly. Feet are for dancing. Lungs are for taking deep breaths. Lips are for kissing and smiling. Family is for loving and driving you crazy. I should go to Africa. To Limuru, Kenya. As soon as possible.

After dinner at my colleagues place, I let myself sit with the knowledge that a journey to Africa was actually possible. With my mind spinning with the information I had learned, I didn't feel scared about what emerged as my potential future. Ron's son had described the beautiful and "not-so-beautiful" aspects of life in Kenya, at least the parts of life he personally experienced. In his three months there, he got malaria and what's known as "jiggers" - a flea parasite that burrows into your feet, lays eggs, and eventually pops your toenails off (*shudder. He treated his jiggers before it became problematic). He had pictures of "bathrooms" (latrines) that would make most people resort to peeing in their pants....personally, I'd rather pee in street. And he had pictures of very poor, starving, HIV positive children. That was hard, but it was also reality. These images were mingled amongst beautiful photos of sunsets, jungles, locals, smiling children, and amazing adventures. I wanted to experience it all...not to sound too, you know, cliché.

I emailed Ron asking him to contact his connections in Kenya and then waited for approximately one month before skipping that step entirely and directly emailing the volunteer coordinator myself. Something that had taken so much time to develop now seemed urgent and immediate. By this time, I had spoken with my supervisor at work who had been hearing of my dreams of Africa for quite some time and wasn't terribly surprised to discover that I was putting a plan into action. Initially, I had no idea as to how much time I could take off and when I originally approached the conversation with my boss, five weeks somehow sprang into my head as a reasonable amount of time to travel to Kenya. Five weeks. It seemed like the perfect amount of time to travel to Africa, do some volunteering and return home. It didn't seem too long or too short - just enough time to get some experience. Barring all complications and potential limitations that could be placed upon my travel via the executive director, my supervisor agreed that five weeks was a possibility. I emailed a woman named Marlies, expressing my interest in volunteering. I proposed the five weeks and attached my resume. Then, I waited another month.

That was a long month. I imagine my waiting for her response was similar to a child writing Santa Claus and then waiting for Christmas morning to arrive to see if their wishes were answered by the jolly guy upstairs. When she finally wrote back I spent 2.3 seconds being terrified to open the email and then another 1.4 seconds deciding that was ridiculous. Email opened, the first few lines read beautifully....."perfect fit..." "skills and experience are very relevant...." "love to have you....." Then came the however....."however, we would prefer for you to come no less than two to three months in order for the children and workers to get used to you." Well, that was never going to happen. Balloon, deflated, flying around the room making that puhhhhhhhhhffffffff noise.


Enter racking brain to see how I could make this work.

The Secret to Life According to Me.

"I think I've discovered the secret to life - you just hang around until you get used to it."
~ Charles Schulz (American Cartoonist)

This morning I woke up at 4:30am for absolutely no reason. I laid in bed until 5am and then got up, totally pissed off that I wasn't still asleep. I did a couple chores around the house and eventually left to grab some Tim Horton's...what else can you do at that time of day?? As I was driving to Tim's, the streets were quiet, no one was around, everyone was still asleep from their turkey dinner the evening before. The only person on the road was a female teenager, riding a skateboard on the sidewalk. As I saw her, I thought to myself, she hasn't even been to bed yet; I remember those days.

I started reflecting back to my early twenties, when I could work three night shifts, not sleep during the day and still had the energy to go out to the bars at night to drink and dance until 3am. I remembered the mornings, walking to work so hungover I was throwing up on the street, and then getting to work where some blessed staff person allowed me to sleep for a couple hours before starting my shift. I remembered the days of attending my first university, where I would pass out in class due to being intoxicated and still would do fine on the exams....and that was when I even made it to class. More than anything, I remember not having a care in the world; the feeling of not being responsible for anything other than myself and my tiny world. Where my biggest worry was coming up with a $1.75 for draft in the university pub and making sure I had a cute outfit to go along with the beer. Those were the days.

Today, creeping towards my mid-thirties, life looks a little different. That doesn't mean that I've stopped having fun, it's just that now - fun looks a lot different and has an earlier bedtime. I can't say I've drank enough recently to attempt to scale an eight foot fence, only to get my jeans caught up and have to hang there until some other drunk person got me down. And, I can't say I'm totally comfortable crashing at some random person's apartment anymore, waking up having no idea where I am. No, I am much more civilized now.....civilized and somewhat boring. My priorities are different, as they should be, and I am now more into eating healthy and getting a good night's sleep, while also having fun and living socially. Like I said, it just looks different now.

After all this reflection on my early morning drive, I came up with the secret to life, as I see it anyway. Again, what in the hell else was I going to do at that time of day, other than solve one of  life's greatest mysteries. Here it is:

When "they" say youth is wasted on the young, "they" are very accurate. When we are young, in what we have no idea is the prime of our life, there is hardly anything better than that. We look the best that we are ever going to look, we have the most energy we are ever going to have, our brains are still sponges that rapidly absorb information, and we are free from most responsibility. The friendships we have are the most important of our lives and the ignorant relationship we have with ourselves isn't yet jaded or too critical. Time passes slowly as there is literally all the time in the world to do what we want. Essentially, these are our glory days, of which we have no idea of.

We spend these years thinking that there is more out there, thinking that when we're just a little bit older we'll be able to experience everything that life has to offer us. What we are astoundingly unaware of is how fabulous we really are and how life has actually started and that it only goes relatively downhill from there. We have no idea how good we look, how much energy we have, how intelligent we are, and how boundless our future really is. Basically, we are clueless and it takes getting older to gain perspective and, well, a clue. Once you are old enough to realize all of this, you're likely past that prime and have entered into a totally different place in life, wishing that you had the good looks, energy, intelligence and potential that you once had in your earlier years.

And that, my friends, is the secret to life. We are never happy with where we are; rather, we focus our energy on moving forward or backwards to what we perceive as being an easier, happier time. We spend our life time engaged in this, all the while time is flying by and suddenly - you are in your mid-thirties and time feels like it's running out. Not running out as in nearing death, running out in the sense that you are moving further away from the age and mentality that allowed you to do all of those crazy things in your youth. You become more cautious, more aware of your mortality. You start thinking of things like, if I do this, I might actually die, something you would have never even considered in your younger years. 

I guess the only way to combat this is to get it earlier on in life, which is unlikely to occur. Therefore, once we get it  later on in life, we better do something about it. Like appreciate the life we have right now. Because, at this moment, similarly to when we were young, we look the best that we ever will again, we have less energy than before but the most we're going to have from now on, and are less intelligent from frying our brain cells but more intelligent than we will be in the future when our brain starts to slowly degenerate.

This is it people. Life is not a dress rehearsal. This is the only one we have.


"When good karma dawns, the wall of doubt is torn down." ~ Sri Guru Ganth Sahib (this is difficult to explain; google it).

If I didn't believe in Karma before this process began (which I did), I certainly would have been forced to afterwards. To me, not a lot of other explanations outside of karma make sense, but I'm sure - to others - there might be a more concrete interpretation of these events.

Last April I was able to attend the 90-minute webinar with MSF, which comprised of an overview of the organization, the recruitment process, and practical information about what it is like to work for them, what to expect, etc. The information was terrifically exciting but defeating at the same time. The biggest, most relevant piece of information was that MSF only accepts about 20% of all applications made to work for them. That's not a lot of people (if basic math is not simple for you, that's an 80% rejection rate). MSF relies heavily on what's called national staff, which are individuals from the area receiving support who are trained by MSF staff to be able to keep services sustainable once MSF pulls out. International staff, which is what I would be, make up a small portion of the overall staff pool and generally spend 60% of their time training national staff and 40% of their time in direct intervention with the people using MSF's services. This was not a problem for me, as I am very comfortable presenting and teaching and have a lot of experience doing so. It actually seemed like a nice balance between working front line and working as an educator.

The second biggest, most relevant piece of information was around the stringent recruitment criteria, some of which I met with my current education and experience. A heavy emphasis was placed upon having previous experience working and travelling outside of Canada/USA, as well as speaking French (and other languages that may be considered applicable). This was an issue. Although my last name is French and my father is Acadian French, I do not speak French outside of statements helpful to find a bathroom or engage in a simple greeting. As for the travel/work experience, well, that's what MSF was going to be for me. I had no idea there would be an expectation of accomplishing that before starting with MSF; although, upon reflection, it made perfect sense. Basically, MSF needs to know that, as an applicant, you know yourself well enough (through experience) to know: whether you can live in harsh conditions, face situations daily that are traumatic in nature, take a huge step outside of your comfort zone, and walk away (for a year) from everything you know and love, without poking your eyes out with a sharp stick. They are not going to invest time and money into you without knowing that you can manage all of that, plus more. MSF exists in some pretty conflict filled areas where staff are only allowed to travel between the compound and their place of work for months at a time because it is not safe to venture outside of that very small box. And, you cannot know if you can manage this without experiencing it first; you simply cannot know. You can think you know, but, you don't really know?

At first, this information made me think my dream (which I had finally decided to act upon) was out of my reach; this was a huge bummer. From the research I had done, I knew that volun-tourism was booming in places like Africa and that organizations were making lots of money offering volunteer opportunities to tourists in combination with an African tourist experience. The cost of joining some of these projects totaled somewhere around $6000 and that did not count your air fare (which, as you can imagine, is expensive) and only provided you with six weeks of travelling/volunteering. I knew I could not afford something like this to gain the experience needed to become part of MSF. That was not going to happen.

Two days after attending the webinar (the day after my 33rd birthday), I was walking through the parking lot of my agency in the afternoon, when I ran into my colleagues husband, Ron. My colleague, a clinician, and her family are some of the most interesting people I know, as they are adventurers, environmentalists, and activists. They have two sons between them, both in their early to mid 20's, who are some of the coolest, most socially conscious kids I know. I am constantly asking her how she managed to raise such great kids, such great men and her answers are always wonderful. I wish she had been my mom. As I stopped to talk to Ron and he asked me what I've been up to, I found myself describing the MSF webinar and the obstacles I was now facing in accomplishing my dream. He listened to me and then responded by noting that his oldest son had just returned from working on a project in Mudete, Kenya (Western Kenya), a project that he had been working with himself for quite some time. He suggested that I come over for dinner sometime so that he and his son could tell me more about it, in the event I would like to become involved. I asked him how much this would cost, to volunteer for this particular organization, and he said that it wouldn't cost anything outside of the plane ticket and a small amount of cash needed to buy necessities. Now, that sounded interesting.

It didn't take long for the dinner to be organized and I ended up going over to their place about two weeks after the conversation in the parking lot happened. Over some wine, salmon and yummy dessert, the dialogue revolved around Africa and Kenya, tribal wars, aid projects, and specifics around the organization Ron and his son had worked with. As it turned out, Ron was working on a documentary that featured the small Fairview School in Mudete, Kenya, where orphaned children - many with HIV - attended classes. Their stories were captivating and I was able to view pictures and videos of their adventures in Africa and, as the discussion progressed, Ron introduced me to another organization that he had visited in Limuru, Kenya - about 20 miles outside Nairobi. As far as he knew, there was little to no cost to volunteer with them either and he could connect me to the appropriate people at either organization. All it took was watching a 10 minute informational video about the organization in Limuru and I knew that's where I wanted to go. Watching that video sparked something deep inside me that, since then, has not diminished.

So, I made another decision...Limuru, Kenya. Full steam ahead.

Neighbours (Part II)

"The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem." ~ Theodore Rubin (American Psychiatrist & Author)

One of the distinct problems to solving this problem was a language barrier as my downstairs neighbours speak Spanish and know very little English. Although I tried to communicate with them about the noise, it was always a very broken conversation that I knew wasn't being fully understood. At one point, I actually attempted to write them a short note in Spanish (thanks Google translate) that I left outside their door - only to find it thrown down the hallway later in the day. Apparently, my attempt at communicating with them in their own language was offensive. Yeah, that was offensive - and their flying monkey children were not? I appreciated the fact that they were new to the country and, as a social worker, considered the fact that I did not know where they were living before and what might have been an acceptable noise level in their previous environment. I also encouraged the landlord to get a translator to make communication with them more successful, thinking that we could explain what would be acceptable noise in our small apartment environment. Another resounding NO came from that request. So, then it started. The all-out noise war where I sunk to levels I never thought possible.

I started thinking about classical conditioning, you know, the Pavlov’s Dogs theory. My thought was: could I condition my downstairs neighbours to understand that, when they reached a certain level of noise level, I would be putting on my music extremely loud to encourage them to shut the hell up. Could they take that cue and respond accordingly. No is the short answer. No they could not. However, what was successful in this experiment was my overwhelming feelings of revenge when I would do this exercise, which eventually creeped into more than my music being up extremely loud. It came to involve what I termed “stompy dancing” to go along with the stompy beats of my blaring techno. It all went to hell the day that they pounded back on the ceiling, in retort to the overall stompiness going on above. I honestly wish that I could have taken my blood pressure at that exact moment because I had to be nearing a critical level of “going to lose my mind-ness.” I was lucky that I had a friend over, who cleverly stepped between me and my apartment door as I attempted to go downstairs to do hell only knows what. I might add that I did not reach this point for about a year, meaning I had been living with the incessant noise (that often times rattled the pictures on my walls) for quite some time. Not that this excuses my would-have-been murderous rampage, but it does provide some context.

My landlords, a 75 year old Italian man and his two useless, grown sons, had been hearing about these problems for awhile. Of course, they weren’t doing anything about, but, they were well aware of the situation. Earlier in the year, I had already dealt with the fact that they had let some crackhead looking guy move into the building across the way, who stole my brand new winter tires out of my garage. May be dealing with one issue per year was their limit. This went on for 16 months in total.

I could have moved, yes, I am well aware of this fact. I could have moved from the only home I had built in a decade, where life had been so quietly awesome for so long. But, I felt this sense of entitlement (which I know is not good), a sense that I had done the right thing in inquiring as to whether or not they rented to people with children, in attempting to approach my neighbours – in English and bad Spanish, in encouraging my landlords to get a translator. I had done things right. I pay my rent on time, every time. I keep my crack-partment clean. I never have more than 2 people over at a time because I am kind of a weirdo and like my place/space to just be mine. I am friendly, cordial, and steadily employed. I present no issues, what so ever, as a tenant.

Eventually, the kicker was that I finally got one of the sons (the one I like the most because the 75 year old father is a bastard and the other son creeps me out) to attempt to talk to the family downstairs again. He called me after he met with them to tell me that they had complaints about me, so “now what was he supposed to do.” Again, a blood pressure monitor would have been nothing less than interesting. I told him that I could guarantee that they had complaints about me, that I had turned into a lunatic from having to manage the situation for so long. I told him about my stompy parties and other generally poor behaviour and, frankly, I think he was more surprised at my honestly regarding the situation than my behaviour. And then, I did something that I could not control....something I hate. I started to cry, out of pure frustration, on the phone. Damnit. I hate that. Who would have known that this was to be a turning point in the situation?

Although the “old man” is a bastard, he has always had a soft spot for me. I am a good tenant, which he respects and despite the fact that I have broken the “no dog” rule (which drives him insane, but he can’t do anything about it because of Buffy’s Law), he genuinely likes me. When the son told him about my honesty and my tears, the old man apparently performed some magical miracle with the downstairs neighbours. A couple months later, when I asked him what he had done, he said in his thick Italian accent that he told them that he was going to “kick their asses out immediately” if they did not stop the noise. May be he was scary (although I can’t picture it) or threatening or who the hell knows. All I know is that things changed after that. Things got better, things got quieter.

Honestly, during the first couple months of the quiet, I thought the two parents murdered the children as I did not hear them at all. I’m still not convinced that they didn’t bring them to grandparents or other relatives to live for awhile because it was deafeningly quiet (although, not too quiet, just deafeningly quiet in comparison to the last year and a half). My home is finally my home again, and you know what...I think I’ll stay for awhile.

Neighbours (Part I)

"A book may be compared to your neighbour: if it be good, it cannot last too long; if bad, you cannot get rid of it too early." ~ Rupert Brooke (Poet)

Let's chat about my downstairs neighbours, as they are an endless source of entertainment and irritation. I have been renting at my current place for over 3 years now. When I moved in, the place was a dump and was commonly referred to as my "crack-partment." With the help of some good friends, I've done a lot of work here over the past few years to be able to call this place my home. I haven't had a lot of homes, despite my tendency to move all over the place, causing me to have many different dwellings over the years. I certainly haven't had many places that I felt were my home. Rather, they were just places I was renting. For a period of time, I didn't even decorate these dwellings, as I knew I would likely not be there long. Part of this was a function of being a student and attending 3 different universities in 3 different cities (3 different provinces to be more accurate). But, this started long before university.

Although I won't get into the entire story because it is long - albeit interesting - my tendency to apartment jump started at a young age. At age 15, or somewhere around there, I became what I now know is called "a runner" (meaning I ran away from home a lot, sometimes for substantial periods of time). When I was 15, I contextualized my behaviour as "leaving" because my parents were assholes. I wasn't running away, I was leaving, and there was a distinct difference between these two things in my mind. Now, working as a clinician in children's mental health, I understand I was "a runner" because I work with runners every day. Regardless, at 15 I started running/leaving, which eventually transitioned into moving in with friends around 16 - 17, who were also colossal idiots like myself. Basically, we rented an apartment until we could no longer afford it, got kicked out, and rented another one. At times, we would have 6-8 teenagers living in one place (ranging from 16 - 20). Our phone would be cut off, the power would be cut off, there was no food, it was dirty - idiots. We felt that we had good reasons, as we could no longer tolerate living in our actual homes with our families because we were so "misunderstood." In reality, most of our parents weren't doing an awesome job with us; however, we were a pretty difficult group to reign in. We didn't have it that bad.

Over the span of, let's say age 16 to 22, I think I moved around 19 times. At 22, I moved in with a then-boyfriend and lived in one place for almost 4 years before moving away to go to school. Since moving away, I've moved another 5 times, including where I am presently living at. My guess - around 24 times since the age of 16, and that's not counting couch-surfing and living at a very "rustic" cabin with no electricity, water, heat or plumbing for an extended amount of time when I was 17-ish. All this to say:  I haven't had many homes, rather, I've had a lot of places. So, when I moved into my place now and decided to make it into my home, it was a significant decision.

The first year here was bliss. It was quiet, despite the fact that the insulation was terrible and that only 2x10's separated me from my downstairs neighbour, who was a single professional woman. I loved it here. Close to work, close to everything else I needed, and quiet. Perfecto. I didn't even care that it was a crack-partment, that my fridge and stove were horrendous, that the finish was off the tub, that the stove was so dirty my buddy had to take it apart to clean it, or that I kept injuring my brand new car trying to park in the impossible parking structure. Did not care. Until that woman moved out and the new neighbours moved in, that is. Then, the caring started.

Prior to living at this place, I lived in another apartment that I considered to be fairly "fancy." Now, it likely wouldn't be considered "fancy" to anyone else, but, it was a definite step up from what I typically lived in. It was a traumatizing experience, as my next door neighbours were literally insane. INSANE. They were a very young couple that consisted of the girlfriend who hated the boyfriend and the boyfriend who was obsessed with the girlfriend. At one point I had to sleep in my living room on the pull out for months because they apparently thought it was reasonable to yell and scream at each other at 1am. It was awesome. Needless to say, I appreciated that quiet and calm atmosphere where I presently live A LOT.

After living here in bliss between May 2008 to September 2009, the new neighbours from hell descended upon my wonderful, quiet apartment complex like the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. There was/is 4 of them: a mother, father, and two small children. When they first moved in, the kids were around 3 and 5, and although there was only two children, the noise that came from below equated to what a herd of elephants might sound like while tearing through a small china shop. I had never EVER heard anything like this before and I lived in some pretty interesting situations. When I first came to look at my crack-partment, I asked the landlord very specific questions around the people he rented to, including as to whether he rented to people with children. The answer was a resounding NO. Hmm, funny, that went straight out the window when the apartment downstairs sat unrented for a period of time. Regardless, here I was living with a virtual zoo below me; however, it was worse than a zoo because, at least at a zoo you can pay your stupid admission and leave. It was like I moved into the zoo.

At one point, I made up a funny game to see if I could guess what they were actually doing downstairs that would create the level of noise I was being exposed to 24 hours a day. Some guesses included: the parents are successfully throwing the children at high velocity towards the walls, the children are throwing bowling balls threw the walls, the children have beds on wheels that they ride through the apartment like a surf board, the children are pyromaniacs who are making dynamite and testing it, the children are ripping up the flooring to install an ice skating rink, the children are shooting b.b.'s at the ceiling. The guesses were endless and fairly amusing. Nothing explained what I was hearing through the 2x10's separating me from the flying monkeys. It was insanity. My landlords were doing nothing about it, despite my constant complaints, and at one point I actually worried that it would be easier to kick me out (the complainer) than it would the downstairs neighbours who were a family with small children. But really, who allows their children behave that way??

Beep Beep, Glare Glare

"Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious." ~ Brendan Gill (American Author & Preservationist)

This week has been tough for me for a myriad of reasons I won't get into here. Sometimes, I pull through tough times without incident; however, this week, I almost ran over a person and, outside of this, almost caused a major accident.....all in one day.

Shockingly, I am an excellent driver. No accidents, tickets, infractions in years. Insurance is low. No seeming cause for alarm when I hit the road in the morning. My car is sensible. Oh, and I live about 3 minutes from my really, how much can go wrong in that little amount of time? There are two people in my city this week who would answer that with, A LOT.

The first person I almost killed was walking in a cross walk, at the appropriate time to be walking through a cross walk - when the hand was solid and white instead of flashing or solid red. I literally did not see her, which apparently makes me blind because she was clearly in plain view. She didn't even look scared to be almost plowed over by my Honda; she looked pissed. And then I got the glare. The "if I glare at you hard enough, you will feel badly about almost running me over" glare. I didn't need the glare, I already felt badly about almost killing her, which I demonstrated by mouthing the words I'm sorry over and over to her through my wind shield.

The second incident, later in the day, took place amidst this fucking construction madness that has been going on for the last 3 months that consumes my entire 3 - 4 minute drive to work - turning it into a 20 minute drive to work, which is clearly unacceptable. It's a catastrophe, this construction, as they keep switching the lanes you can be in (which is 1) so just when you know what you are doing, you become confused again. And none of the provided signage directs you in any meaningful sort of way so people are constantly cutting each off  accidentally. Anyway, there I was, driving along, checking my blind spot constantly - and probably more vigorously than I would have been otherwise due to the incident earlier in the day - and what I should have undeniably seen was some dude driving a black Mazda something or other, quickly approaching on my right side. I saw nothing, despite the fact that I was looking directly at him and his car, which was barreling towards mine because I drove through the confusingly placed yield sign. He had to slam on his breaks, I found myself at the receiving end of that exact same glare, and then immediately afterwards found myself profusely mouthing I'm sorry all over again. I was glad when other cars managed to pull in between us so that I didn't have to suffer the wrath of the glare all the way back to my workplace.


"Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live." ~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (German Writer, Physicist, Biologist)

Let’s chat a little more about that momentum I was speaking about during my last post.....
Developing a relationship with yourself is assumedly one of the more challenging journey’s in human existence, as I believe this is often the relationship that is left neglected and starving in the corner. Learning to trust yourself after years of indifference...well, that's a little more difficult. Here's how I view this process:
Inside of each of us lives a small child that represents the truest form of our being. This inner child has a lot of power, as they are the keepers of our happiest and most terrifying moments and experiences. And, they never forget. If you love yourself in the healthiest of ways, pay attention to this little person inside, and nurture yourself above all others, it is my opinion that this little person generally remains content and docile. However, when you neglect that child, when you forget to love yourself and compromise all that you are and depend on others for primary nurturing, that inner child often will raise their voice to shout for attention. In essence, that little person doesn't trust that you will take care of him or her and, therefore, when you attempt to make change that is unfamiliar, he or she freaks out like a kid in Wal-Mart when the newest, shiniest plastic toy isn't purchased for them. The inner child is temperamental.
Unfortunately, my inner child has experienced the latter category for a very long time. It has been my tendency to silence her when she is screaming for attention, rather than nurturing her, me, us. Through my meetings with Jenny, this process has begun and it has been extremely difficult. When applied to my dreams of going to Africa, my inner child was doubtful at best. She consistently told me self-defeating messages that lead me to distrust myself and my abilities. She convinced me that, due to the neglect I had imposed on myself over the years, I did not possess the strength and fortitude to take care of myself under such strenuous circumstances as travelling and working in Africa. I mean, let's be honest, you really need to have things "under wraps" to take on an adventure such as this and, to me, that meant having my spiritual, emotional and physical health in tip-top shape.
If you have read any of my previous posts, you will know that I have been struggling with my spirituality since I was a child. I need to continue writing those posts, as my journey with that continues. I have made enough progress to now understand that I cannot continue to neglect this aspect of my life, as I am continuously searching. My emotional health - well, that's what Jenny was for. And, upon making all of the above discoveries, I was super happy to know that I had someone competent guiding me along the rough terrain in front of me. I had been neglecting my physical health for ages in terms of my eating and exercise habits and I was constantly feeling under the weather, fatigued, and experienced headaches and lethargy. Basically, I was a mess in all of the areas I felt needed significant attention. Out of them all, I felt the most secure in the progress I was making with Jenny, in looking after my emotional health; however, the other two were seriously lacking.
It takes a lot of energy, this self-discovery business. It’s worth it; don’t get me wrong, but exhausting. And expensive (in my case). Although this is getting a little ahead of ourselves, I will say that over time, the expenses associated with this journey – the therapy sessions, the visits to the Osteopath, the classes on meditation, the complete change in diet – have tallied quite the ongoing total. It’s worth it. Every single day, it’s worth it. And, over time, you just get used to being broke. To say that I have done all of this, all with the goal of getting to Africa, is accurate and astounding. To say that it is out of character for me to engage myself on this level over an extended period of time is a gross understatement. But, I have. And I plan on continuing to do so for a lifetime – or at least until I get to Africa. My inner child is quieter these days; although she is not yet still (hence the meditation classes).
It’s a work in progress.
As mentioned in my last post, 7 months ago, I made the decision that I was going to Africa. That switch-flipping I was talking was what lead to all of the movement described above. As my head became clearer, I started investigating what would be involved with getting on with MSF. Although I had read a lot about the organization, I had not actually explored the practical aspects of working with them. As I reviewed their extensive criteria and application process, I was surprised by how many aspects I fulfilled with my education and experience. I would qualify for a para-medical staff position as a social worker, particularly given my experience working with kids who have suffered trauma. I was surprised to find out that MSF offered a monthly salary and, although it isn’t a large amount, it is far larger than I had imagined. As a Canadian, working for MSF would pay me $1700/month and all of my expenses (from the time I left my home until the time I returned) would be covered. That would allow me to keep up with my student loan payments while away, which was my main concern. The contracts ranged from 9-12 months for field staff, with mandatory breaks and holidays along the way. I imagine MSF doesn’t want you poking your eyes out with a sharp stick after working for months at a time in the most demanding and taxing circumstances out there. Breaks are good. The website (provided in a previous post) was extremely comprehensive and user-friendly; however, I did not feel that I could get all of the necessary information that I needed from it. Karma kicked in and, next thing I knew, a free 90 minute webinar was being offered in a month’s time that I could easily register for. And I did. And that’s when it all really began.

Money Well Spent

"You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own and you know what you know. And you are the one who'll decide where to go." ~Dr. Seuss

We're finally getting closer to the point in this story where it will reach real time....but, we have a little bit further to go before we get there. After reading all these books, I began to wish that I could just place my head on top of a book and just extract all the information it contained directly into my brain. I had merely scratched the surface of what I wanted and needed to know and it was impossible (for me) to keep, for example, all the tribal wars straight. As I moved through this process I began to reflect on the idea that I was engaging in a lot of research for something that was simply a dream.
A brilliant man once told me, every good therapist has their own therapist. He also told me that, every good social worker is always one step away from being fired and I can honestly say that I live by both. This post is to talk about the former who we shall refer to as 'Jenny' (which is a name that I love, for no apparent reason other than a possible loose association to the movie Forrest Gump). Jenny and I began working together close to a year ago and she wasn't my first crack at the therapy-show. I have a tendency to make up names for my therapists that fit their personalities, such as Doctor Question Mark and Dr. Geeky Pat (he reminded me of a geeky version of my old friend Pat). Doctor ? was a fucking quack....we'll leave it at that. Jenny has always been Jenny, no fancy made up name for her.
Initially, I sought Jenny's services because I was being triggered by a kid at work that I was engaging in therapy, which was distressing for me professionally and personally. Counter-transference is not a good thing. Interestingly enough, we only talked about that particular problem for a few sessions and then we got down to the real work. I identify this period as being the beginning of the journey that lead me to where I presently am in my life, which is at a distinctly different (and happier) place. As Jenny and I worked through tough topics and experiences, my valuable dollars being spent on therapy were put to work as I refused to engage in this fairly expensive process without doing what was necessary. Apparently, I am a "good client," as I continually do my "homework," which is a nice way of saying I do the work required to re-wire my brain to think, see and understand things a little differently. Not an easy task, if you ask me.
Our main focus became - the primary focus of almost all therapeutic relationships - working through issues related to my family of origin (which is fancy way of saying immediate family). This was interesting and difficult, as my relationship with my family has often been coloured by tension, unease and what I perceive as non-acceptance over the years. We're a great bunch, my clan, but we have our issues. These conversations transitioned into work around my relational style with other significant people in my life, which then - somehow - transitioned into fulfilling one's dreams by being true to oneself. I guess the connection was exploring the most important relationship of my life - my relationship with myself. Money well spent. I guess it was around month three when I expressed my desire to travel to Africa to Jenny, although I cannot remember the exact context of the entire conversation. Her words of wisdom were shockingly simple: well, why couldn't you go to Africa? For the first time in a long time, my contrived arguments were drastically weaker in strength. The arguments revolved around finances and time off work and an ignorance about what opportunities were actually out there to support my dream in coming into fruition. In a moment, I realized that all the books I read, although rich in information and beautifully narrated, really did not give me any information about actually going somewhere to do something. I was basically and acutely dense about how to pull that off, regardless of my new level of social consciousness. No wonder I didn't think that I could go to Africa.
I hate this metaphor but, it is appropriate here: it was like a switch flipped in my head and everything changed. And, now - seven months later - the switch still hasn't turned off. Jenny has been integral in this process, as she created a space wherein my inner momentum could be recognized. She has continued helping me along my way by encouraging me to keep that momentum moving forward instead of sucking me backwards like a vacuum. It seems like every new personal discovery since that time has somehow nicely fit in with the transition of my dream into a goal into the foreseeable future. Oh Jenny, how valued you are by me. I often wish the boundaries of our professional relationship could bend just a little bit to include wine in our conversations and exclude a bill at the end of the hour.
"So, tallyho; it's forward I go. Where I'll land, I finally know. It's onto Africa, my dream from long ago. Where I might see a lion, giraffe, or a hippo.  Fuck it, let's do it - that's my new motto." ~ Me.

It's Either Right or It's Wrong

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." ~ Robert Frost (American Poet)

I will start this post out by saying that my mother is an amazing woman. If I ever needed anything (outside of, let's say, unconditional acceptance), she would be there for me in an instant. I never want to take away from that fact when I write about my mother, as it is possible (may be even likely) that I may write about her in a negative light at times. I am a daughter, therefore, a well-developed dysfunctional relationship exists as it does in most (if not every) mother-daughter relationship - one where the foundation has been carefully laid and ripped up repeatedly. I am hesitant to even attempt to write about my mother as she, and our relationship, is so complex that I doubt I can give the stories any justice. I know that I cannot represent her "side of the story" accurately or adequately, as I am not a mother and have no idea what it would be like to raise a child - particularly a child like me. Actually, that's inaccurate - I was a beautiful child; ages 15-23 were "interesting." What strikes me as particularly interesting, how fundamentally different I am from my mother, the differences being so astounding that I often question where I came from (I don't bear an overt resemblance to my father's personality either). So, although I will proceed with caution out of a level of respect, I will simultaneously throw aside my prudence for the sake of what has to be considered hilarity for my own sanity to remain intact.

My mother operates on a system of black and white thinking that is integral to the very essence of her understanding of who she is as a human being. She functions without exploring the greyer sides of life and, although some of this is generational, some of it is a part of her personality that she is very comfortable living within. More comfortable than, let's say, if she was to start some sentences with, "well, I suppose if I considered that factor, my opinion might change." That is unlikely to occur. I am the complete opposite of this. When considering most things, I exist in the "grey" to the point where it might be irritating to others. I consider everything. A good example of this would be the experience of me watching the show COPS, where I sit and consider everything that might have happened to the "criminal" to make him or her behave way they are do and, often, I sympathize with their plight and side with the "bad guys." I can often be heard saying, "no one wakes up one day and decides that they want to be a prostitute/crack head." I genuinely believe that is true. However, to people like my mother, its black and white - being a prostitute or a crack head is wrong, it's illegal, and it's immoral. End of story. This makes for interesting conversation in my household when I dare to broach any subject that can be considered controversial.

Example One: Gay marriage.

Here's a doozey that I will admit my mother has made small progress on over the past couple of years. I will start out by saying that my mother loves gay men and would love to be a hag; although, I wonder if she feels this way because it's the fashionable thing to do. Interestingly enough, she has very little time for lesbians and I imagine this comes from her belief that lesbians all like to do yard work, wear plaid, and drink beer (out of the bottle, oh my!). Gay men like to shop and gossip and tell you how fabulous you really, apparently they are okay.

Regardless, when "the gays" started asserting that they wanted equal marriage rights, my mother struggled significantly. The idea that same-sex couples wanted a marriage was simply preposterous to my mother....PREPOSTEROUS I SAY!  Why, why was this preposterous, you might ask? Well, for the same reason that a lot of people her age struggled with this concept. It was how she explained her perspective that was...hilariously awful. My mother spouted the same argument heard across the planet...a marriage is a commitment to god, a union in front of god, between a man and a woman. And that was that; no grey area here. God doesn't approve of the "gay lifestyle" making a union in front of god even more exorbitant to her. Her theory was this: If we let "the gays" get married, what's next? The next thing you know, people will want to marry their dogs and we'll have to let them because we let "the gays" get married.

What? No really, what???? The only thing I will say on this is something that will clarify just how dissimilar my mother and I are. If people wanted to marry their dogs, without having sex with them or doing anything else that would harm them, I would understand. I love my dog so much that I could pop her little head off. I would consider marrying her....we're married now for Christ sakes. We live together, we snuggle, we bring each other joy and love, we are protective over each other, we don't judge each other. That is like a marriage....only way happier.

Example Two: Marijuana.

To my mother, marijuana and crack are virtually the same thing. I hear that for Americans (no offense intended) the marijuana perspective is similar, but, we aren't Americans...we are Canadians. And a lot of Canadians smoke pot and our Canadian laws regulating the consumption of marijuana are pretty lax. For those of you who don't know Canadian law, if you get stopped with less than a certain amount of marijuana on you, you'll likely get a fine that will not involve legal charges or a criminal record. You have an equal chance that the police officer will just take it from you (with no fines) and, after his shift that night, will likely smoke it in front of his TV to relax. That's just how it is. Once a year in Canada people sit on Parliament Hill and smoke pot all day. For those who don't know, Parliament Hill would be the Canadian version of the White House. I wouldn't go so far to say that smoking pot is the Canadian way...but, it's part of our backdrop whether we like it or not. This is also preposterous to my mother.

It all starts with pot.....marijuana is a gateway drug. Smoking marijuana goes against every fibre of my being. If you smoke marijuana, you will become addicted to it. I need to mention here that my mother believes if you use any mind altering substances, you are likely an addict. Except her...she enjoys wine and because she indulges in it casually, she does not have a problem. And, she doesn't...but neither does many of the people she surmises do have a problem - which is almost everyone.  If a person is a crack head and quits doing that but still smokes pot, they mise well continue being a crack head because they are still using drugs. It's like those people who stop drinking booze because they're an alcoholic and then start drinking non-alcoholic beer. You can conclude from this that mom doesn't believe in the harm reduction approach, of which I am a huge fan.

My sister is a fairly conservative person and has never indulged in marijuana smoking and even she understands that pot smoking is part of the Canadian landscape. We often joke about how if Mom ever smoked pot, she'd realize what all of the fuss is about, would likely become a major pothead and, consequently, RELAX a little. My perspective is this - the government, a long long time ago, legalized the wrong thing. Alcohol should be illegal and pot should be legal. May be that's a little black and white thinking of my own. Here's some Canadian statistics for you:

In 2009, 89000 impaired driving offences occurred in Canada and, of those, 2% were drug-related (meaning 98% involved alcohol). This figure includes 154 incidents of impaired operation of a vehicle causing death and 890 incidents of impaired operation causing bodily harm.

In 2010, among Canadians 15 years and older, the prevalence of past-year cannabis use decreased from 14.1% in 2004 to 10.7%. The prevalence of past-year cannabis use decreased, among youth aged 15 to 24 years, from 37.0% in 2004 to 25.1% in 2010.

In 2009-2012, the prevalence of heavy frequent drinking among youth 15 to 24 years of age, was approximately three times higher than the rate for adults 25 years and older (9.4% versus 3.3%). Heavy infrequent drinking increased among adults, from 2.4% in 2009 to 3.3% in 2010. This was likely driven by an increase in heavy infrequent drinking among males from 3.8% in 2009 to 5.6% in 2010. Light frequent drinking increased among females from 25.4% in 2009 to 28.2% in 2010.

In 2010, 14.6% of Canadians reported experiencing at least one harm in their lifetime as a result of their alcohol use. 2.1% of Canadians 15 years and older reported experiencing at least one harm in the past year due to their illicit drug use (all illicit drug use, not just marijuana). Among current users the reported rate of past year harm has also not changed since 2004.

You can draw your own conclusions from these stats, but I will say this: the potheads I know are responsible, professional adults that smoke regularly and their biggest issue revolves around the potential for laziness. The alcoholics I know who drink regularly are a mess. Period.

Example Three: (What I Consider to Be) Basic Human Rights for Incarcerated Individuals.

They should spend their days digging a hole and then filling it back in...then they'd be tired and prison violence would decrease. They should be shot and then their families should be billed for the bullet, like in Japan. Bread and water....that is all they should be given to eat...they lost their right to nutritious food when they broke the law. There is no racial profiling in the United people really do commit more crimes. Canada should adopt the caning laws that exist in Singapore.....people in Singapore get caned for chewing gum because it's illegal....I wish chewing gum was illegal here.

I have spent a lifetime hearing these phrases. It astounds me that I turned out so good....seriously, it really does. Is the one about Japan even true?

If you knew me more intimately, you would know how impossible it was for me to live under the same roof with someone who looked at life and people in this way. The only people in this world that I believe should may be be shot is pedophiles and that is because I honestly do not believe that they can be "cured." I feel that I've done the research enough to qualify my opinion on this as I worked in a relapse prevention program for pedophiles while completing my bachelor of social work degree. I'm not saying that some of these individuals do not feel remorse for what they have done because it was my experience that some of them genuinely do. But, in terms of them stopping harming children.....I'm not so sure about that one. So, to me, if you harm a child and you cannot be helped and, therefore, you will continue to harm children when not contained in the walls of a prison....well, you gotta go. That is my personal opinion so I will not apologize to those who have a different one.

In my grey-world, and as noted in my description of my inability to watch COPS, I feel that people arrive at certain places in life due to circumstances that are often out of their control - initially at least. In working with kids and seeing the damage that is done to them, I am not shocked that the world is becoming filled with people who are engaging in criminal activity. Quite honestly, I am surprised it isn't worse. You cannot do the things that are being done to children and expect them to grow up and be okay. Everyone starts out as a infant....and what happens in those first 3-5 years of life has a large role in shaping who an individual is. This is basic, to me. This doesn't even speak to the other aspects of society that shape individuals, such as racism, sexism, bigotry and hate. I also believe this: if you lock a person in a cage, they will become an animal. That is common sense, to me.

Example Four: (What I Consider to Be) Basic Human Rights for All Individuals.

My mother believes that the government should be able to sterilize people. I am not naive enough to think that there aren't others who share in this opinion (as well as the opinions discussed above), in fact I am fully aware that many people believe in this concept. I used to work at a drop-in centre for local individuals living in poverty or who were homeless; I was a crisis counsellor there. I remember telling my mother about one of the community members who had birthed 8 children, all of which were apprehended at the hospital and placed directly into care. Sterilize her....immediately! Conversely, my first thought was, wow - this woman must be in so much emotional pain, or feel no pain at all due to her life experience. Wow, I cannot imagine that. Wow, we need to figure out a way to help this woman. But, that's me. Not just the me that was trained to think that way via my education; the me that existed before that and after that and now and forever.

My mother wants to approach Muslim women and tear off their hijabs and tell them that they are free! And she loves the newly developed laws that are spreading across Europe and the UK, banning women from wearing their traditional head scarves. Not because she wants Muslim women to be free, per se (however she understands the word free to be applied in this context) but more because she doesn't want the hijab worn in Canada....or anywhere in North America....or, more accurately, anywhere outside of what would be considered "Muslim countries." Obviously, she believes in the when in Rome mentality. Similarly, any conversations about religion should be avoided at all times in my household. My fall from the grace of god and the catholic church was/is hard on my mother....she feels bad for me because I no longer believe. She also feels that I should believe just in case I am wrong about my understanding of heaven and hell. I think I'm willing to gamble on that one.

Because I have been forced to live with these ideals my entire life, they have become almost funny to me. And because I am so fundamentally different, I have spent countless hours attempting to help my mother see the error in her logic. It's taken me until the last couple years to finally see that this is an exercise in futility, as the likelihood of her changing is close to the likelihood that I will, let's say, become a nun or something like that. That doesn't mean that every once in awhile, my inner oppositional child doesn't rear her ugly head and engage in sarcastic arguments with my mother. Yes, that still happens more than I care to admit. Because I love my mother, I have tried to understand her perspective on things given her limited life experience, her generation, and all that business. I can say truthfully that she often will not step outside of her comfort zone to attempt to understand my perspectives. She's amusing though.....I will give her that.

I think the above describes the real reason we need siblings. If nothing else, my sister is the only other person on the planet who truly understands what it is like to live a life with mom. I am so grateful for that.

Humanitarian Crisis in East Africa

Humanitarian Crisis in East Africa - CIDA

First Hand Accounts

"The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do." ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach (American Author)

I started with reading books. Being a social worker I figured that I knew a lot about the issues in Africa, what I came to find out was that I had an unfathomable amount more to learn. I knew the basics whereas I needed a masters to really understand. And, after all the books I've read, I know that I do not truly understand as I believe no one can....unless they actually go there. I read about the HIV crisis and its direct linkages to the pharmaceutical industry; I read about children being abducted by rebels needing new soldiers for their wars; I read about orphaned children and the kindness of poverty stricken Africans who take them in; I read about the genocide and I read about using rape as a weapon of war; I read about the historical context of slavery. Eventually, I started reading about international development and various humanitarian aid projects, which proved to be interesting and exciting. When I would travel home for vacation to see my family, I would often make a conscious effort to check the title of the book I was reading to ensure it wouldn't be upsetting to anyone. At times, I found myself wandering the isles of Chapters for serious chunks of time...looking for new information to find and devour. It was amazing how little I knew, as I felt myself to be a socially conscious individual. I was wrong in that assessment of myself; however, I've been making significant strides over the past while in becoming one.

Reading first hand accounts of the young girls in Uganda impacted me deeply, as they spoke of their terror at being kidnapped and used for "pleasure" and war (Stolen Angels by Kathy Cook).  Reading stories of journalists who travelled into war torn Africa to observe scenes that left them flirting with post traumatic stress disorder was dumbfounding. However, it was the stories of the African women who took in orphaned children that spoke to my heart, such as the story of Mrs. Haregewoin Teferra (There's No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene) - an Ethiopian woman who filled her home with hundreds of children with HIV/AIDS.  I've always enjoyed reading about real life and I have often heard that I read depressing and disturbing novels.....I mean, who wants to read about little girls being kidnapped in Uganda? Not many people, I imagine, or may be a lot...who knows. Regardless, I began to educate myself on a variety of issues that were happening in different parts of Africa and, as a result, I began to learn about how individuals, groups of people and organizations are attempting to help.

I was immediately drawn to the work being done through Médecins Sans Frontières  (MSF, Doctor's Without Borders), a well-established medical relief organization that has been working internationally since 1971. What spoke to me about the organization is that they are not affiliated with political or religious groups and that they observe impartiality in their medical ethics, providing humanitarian assistance to all people, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, and political views. No one has to 'sing for their supper' or pledge allegiance to anyone else to receive aid. So, I began reading books that provided first hand accounts of MSF field workers experiences working in various African locations, such as Six Months in Sudan by James Maskalyk and Hope in Hell by Dan Bortolotti. Instead of quelling my interest, these books simply fuelled it as they described the conditions Africans were living in and the relatively small sucesses of humanitarian aid organizations in comparison to the population of people needing assistance. It was facinating.

As I became more informed, my dreams of travelling to Africa became more defined and easier to articulate; however, they remained dreams due to having no idea of how to transition them from this place. I started to wonder, then imagine, what it would be like to actually go away to Africa for a period of time and I asked myself, is this even possible? Most days I answered myself with a resounding 'NO!' as it seemed unattainable from many aspects. Financially, practically - in terms of work - and the biggest element being that I was still kind of a mess....mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Despite any other reasons I could surmise, in knowing myself as intimately as I didn't seem possible or, at best, did not seem likely. I felt disappointed in myself, knowing that other people do these kind of things regularly because, if they didn't, organizations like MSF would not exist. I wanted to be one of those people but, at the time I didn't understand that I possessed the fortitude to become one because I was too lost.

Despite feeling wayward, when people asked me what I wanted to accomplish in this life.....marriage, children, establishing myself within my standard answer became, I want to go to Africa. It was virtually the only thing on the bucket list. I wanted to be able to provide my own first hand accounts of my experiences.