Tag Archives: Canada

Ask me how I feel today…

30 Mar

Go on, I dare you! Ask me how I feel!

Well, since you ask… I am streaming with a cold, my head is congested, I am sneezing non-stop, and because of my upcoming wedding, I am stressed to the hilt.

And yet…

I feel GREAT!!!

So I have a cold. But it’s only a cold. I don’t have cancer, or multiple sclerosis, or HIV.

So I’m too sick to run right now, and will quite possibly have to miss my race this weekend. But I have two legs that work, and I am physically fit, and I will run again when this cold is gone. I have it way easier than my amazing friend Fran, who has become a runner despite the fact that she lives with cystic fibrosis.

And OK, it’s still a little chilly for my liking, and we’re still getting the odd snowfall in late March. But I live in Canada, not Iraq or Afghanistan or Libya, and all we get falling out of the sky is snow and rain, not bullets.

When I go outside, I have to wear a coat. When people in Japan go out, they have to wear masks to avoid inhaling dust from earthquake and tsumani debris, and they have to worry about radiaion poisoning.

I am stressed from wedding planning. I know people who are stressed from divorce, and other people, like my Mom, who grieve for their soulmates who are no longer here.

While we’re on the subject, every day I grieve for the wonderful Dad who raised me. I have a friend who grew up without a true Dad, but with a child rapist who happened to be her father by biology only.

I spend two hours a day commuting, and there are days when it becomes overwhelming. But I have a job to commute to. I can afford to feed my family and buy birthday presents for my children.

It is true, I do have a child with autism, and every day brings its own unique challenges. But I have my kids, and every time I hug them I think of my other amazing friend Amy, who sat at her baby’s bedside for five months before cradling him in her arms as he died.

So how do I feel?

I’d say my life is pretty darned good, and I am truly grateful for what I have.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hurricanemaine/3429008592/)

Dumb-Mockracy In Action

25 Mar

I got my first exposure to Canadian politics two days after I arrived here, when I saw a news report about an attack on the then Prime Minister, Jean Chretien. A man claiming to represent victimized people in Canadian society broke security ranks and hit Chretien in the face – with a pie. I wasn’t too clear on what message this action was supposed to convey. Did the pie represent something? Was this an example of the Canadian reputation for politeness (“Sorry, Mr. Prime Minister, but I really don’t agree with the way you are running the country, but I’m way too nice to actually hurt you, so here’s a pie instead.”)

Having grown up in South Africa during the last days and the ultimate fall of Apartheid, and having been present at such auspicious occasions as the release of Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s first democratic election, I was used to political volatility. But still, I found the whole pie thing distinctly… odd.

Since living here, I have always found Canadian politics to be somewhat tame and boring. I do not mean that in a negative way. Tame and boring is good. It means that you are dealing with issues like employment, the economy, healthcare – the kind of stuff that governments should worry about on a day-to-day basis. You are not having to spend all of your time thinking about international sanctions that are completely choking your country, a crime rate so high that a murder barely gets a mention in the middle pages of a community newspaper, a police force that is so badly paid that officers resort to taking financial bribes just to make ends meet (not that I’m justifying bribery and corruption, but c’mon, if you’re expecting someone to risk their life, at least pay them a living wage), and many other crisis points that governments should only have to think about once in a blue moon.

By the time I had been here for three years or so, I had developed a theory. It goes like this:
Theory: Politicians have to argue, even if they don’t have anything to argue about. 
Corollary: A great way to really add to the excitement is by bringing down the government and holding a federal election.

After Jean Chretien decided to call it quits ( can’t blame him – the dude was getting a bit long in the tooth, chronologically speaking), he passed the reins to Paul Martin. When election time rolled around the following year, Paul Martin held onto his post but only won a minority government. This meant that at any time, the opposition parties could band together and pass a motion of no-confidence, triggering an election. This is exactly what happened, which is how we wound up with Stephen Harper, the current Head Honcho.

Stephen Harper won a minority government as well. Two years later the opposition parties brought down his government, but he kept his Prime Minister seat in the resulting election (another minority government).

Two years after that, the opposition parties brought down his government again, but he kept his Prime Minister seat in the resulting election (and another minority government).

Now, about three years later, Stephen Harper’s government is on the verge of falling yet again. On this very afternoon, the opposition parties are almost certainly going to defeat the government on the basis of the federal budget, and an election will be held in the Spring.

The only difference (from my perspective anyway) between this occasion and the previous ones is that this time, I will get to vote and thereby earn the right to complain. I have a long-held belief that people do not have any place complaining about a government if they were not bothered to go out and put an “X” on a piece of cardboard. This time, however, I will be eligible to vote.

Which of course means that I will have to decide who to vote for.

For the benefit of those living outside of Canada, I should explain that Canadians do not actually vote directly for the Prime Minister. They vote for a local Member of Parliament (MP), who is usually affiliated with one of the major political parties. The head of the party that winds up with the most MP’s gets to be the Prime Minister.

In an ideal world, this would work fine. In an ideal world, you just know that the MP’s of a political party are united in what they stand for.

In the real world, however, this system of voting can pose quite a dilemma.

Here’s the scenario: You really, really like the guy who’s running locally for your preferred political party. You feel that he has a keen grasp of the issues that are important, and you believe that he will represent your best interests at federal level. However, you cannot stand the head of that political party. You would rather set your face on fire than have him as Prime Minister. You don’t trust him and you believe that the only thing he cares about is his own personal agenda.

On the other hand, the MP candidate for the other political party, the party you would not normally support, is not someone you would typically vote for. But the head of that political party would, you believe, make a better Prime Minister than his opponent. He may not represent all of your beliefs, and he may not have the same priorities you might like, but you think that he does at least have some integrity. You think that he has Canadian interests at heart, whereas the other guy absolutely doesn’t.

So how do you cast your ballot? Do you vote for the local guy you like, knowing that this would also represent a vote for someone you cannot stand? Or do you vote for the other guy in support of your preferred Prime Ministerial candidate, knowing that you are also voting for an MP who does not represent your priorities and beliefs?

Update: breaking news is that the Canadian government has indeed been defeated on a no-confidence motion. A federal election will be held in May.
Disclaimer: the hypothetical scenarios described above are not a statement of actual circumstances, nor are they a reflection of my political leanings. They are hypothetical questions only.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kahtava/241834777)

Being An Alien In A Strange Land

24 Jan

The date was August 14, 2000.  I have no idea what time it was, but it was already dark, I had had a long day, and my head was several time zones to the west.  Even though I was sick with exhaustion, I felt the exhiliration of having arrived.  After months of planning and finding my way through bureaucratic tape, after some last-minute logistical crises, I was here, ready to start my new life.

The man behind the counter came back from wherever he had been, handed me my freshly stamped passport, and with a smile said, “Welcome to Canada”.

Well.  This was a nice change from the way airport officials had treated me in the United States earlier in the day.  This was back in the time when South African nationals were allowed to be in transit through the United States without a visa (I’d bet my left arm that this is no longer the case).  I had been made to sit in a departure lounge with security guys watching me from the doorway, as if I was about to take off and make a run for it.  The fact that my friend Kane had come out to meet me helped me ignore their suspicious gaze.

I mean, honestly. I was a smallish woman, bogged down with enough stuff to weigh down an elephant, and I had just travelled across seven time zones.  What damage did they think I was capable of?  I was barely capable of beating an egg.

But anyway.  Now I was in Canada – had been WELCOMED to Canada – and I was allowed beyond the confines of the airport.  I picked up my baggage, paid a visit to the foreign currency exchange desk, and caught a cab to where I would be staying for the first six weeks.  It was dark so I could not see much, but all the way to the rented furnished apartment I peered excitedly through the window like a little kid looking out for his first glimpse of the ocean.

By the time I got to the apartment and checked in, it was well past midnight.  I was tired, but the time change had played silly buggers with my mind, so sleep was out of the question.  I unpacked, called my parents to tell them I had arrived in one piece, and then spent the rest of the night poring over my travel guide.  I fell asleep at some point in the early hours of the morning.

I had a week to explore and find my way around before I was due to start my new job, and I got started right way, the day after I arrived.  My first venture into the City of Toronto is an experience I will never forget.  The apartment was located right in the city centre, so I reasoned that it would probably take a day for me to explore my immediate environs on foot.  I would tackle the subway system the following day.

Armed with my map, and with my camera hanging around my neck (face it, I may as well have had the word TOURIST stamped right on my head) I stepped out from the apartment building and started walking.  When I turned a corner not far from where I was staying, I saw a life-sized fibreglass moose, painted in bright colours.

I thought this was pretty cool.  I mean, a life-sized moose in the middle of Toronto. For someone who had just landed in Canada to see something so symbolic of – well, Canada – this was kind of neat.  I liked it.

It had the added bonus of being a handy landmark.  When I see the moose, I thought, I will be close to the apartment.

Four very confusing blocks later, I sat in a coffee shop reading an article about Toronto’s project to put brightly coloured moose sculptures on almost every street in the city.

So much for my landmark.

By the time I wanted to go back to the apartment, I was thoroughly lost.  Those damned moose!  I felt as if I should have sprinkled cookie crumbs in my trail so I could find my way back, like Hansel and Gretel (although look what happened to them – probably not the best example).

Eventually I found my way around.  I learned how to tell one moose from another, and I became proficient at travelling around on the subway.  It took a while for me to really get to know the place, and to build up a social support network, but as the saying goes, I got by with a little help from my friends.

It is strange to think that more than ten years have passed since then.  In that time, a lot has happened.  I have met my life partner and husband-to-be (and YES, it’s the same person!).  I have had two kids.  I have left one job and started another.  I have run races, made friends, weathered a financial crisis, travelled home to bury my father.  I have become a Canadian citizen and for the first time,exercised my right to vote in a Canadian election. A lifetime seems to have happened in the last decade.

It would be easy to reflect on the ways in which my life would be different if I had not packed my life into checked baggage and left South Africa. But that would be pointless.

It is enough for me to know that I have held onto cherished family relationships and friendships from my previous life, while forming some new ones here in Canada.  I feel like I have the best of both worlds, and I am exactly where I want to be.