Most of us dream of creating or doing something that will be original, inspiring, or change the world. Sadly, not all of us will get that chance. However, that makes it all the more special when you encounter someone or something that has accomplished the unimaginable.
For me, this happened when we experienced the architecture of Antoni Gaudi. Especially la Sagrada Familia. This structure was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was architecture inspired by nature, formed in a way that causes onlookers to question the beauty of buildings they have considered breathtaking in the past. Your gaze is drawn upwards, and curiosity, wonder, and awe are brought to the forefront of your mind. And, in its own way, it inspires others to wonder about a God that could give such a talent to one person.
Encounters such as these are few and far between. Whether it be with art, music, or what have you, it makes you realize that the things we consider “normal” need to be challenged. As well, it causes you to question where true inspiration and creativity come from. I do not have the answers to these, for that is up to you. But I will leave you with this: “God inspires, we only need to let ourselves be guided.” (Gaudi)
Most of us dream of creating or doing something that will be original, inspiring, or change the world. Sadly, not all of us will get that chance. However, that makes it all the more special when you encounter someone or something that has accomplished the unimaginable.
Not all travelers are pilgrims but all pilgrims travel. As we herded off the bus in Perugia with our lives on our backs, we began to climb the slow incline of the hill ahead of us. At the halfway point to our destination that was a monastery, we were out of breath and ready to rest. But still we carried on. We did not let our heart rates lessen as we pushed our legs to climb higher despite the burdens that weighed us back down. We laughed when Walter told us that our path would worsen as he pointed ahead to the steep and long hill upwards. But still we carried on. Each of us climbed at our own pace but we made it to the top relatively at the same time. One more step, one more breath, and then we’d find relief.
Although this journey was not the most vigorous physical exertion we have all faced, I could not help but think of it as a pilgrimage. SSU trips enable us to walk in the paths of those before us. We have strength in the certainty that other students have accomplished what we are enduring here. Travelling is often romanticized whether before or after a trip. We anticipate seeing new things and experiences. Afterwards we reflect on the good memories. Yet travel brings us to new places both physically and metaphorically. It is an ongoing journey that challenges our expectations, our beliefs, and our identity.
We entered these rooms, the walls being covered with snapshots of interactions between people. I passed through the first two rooms without paying too much attention to the scenes painted on the walls. But as I walked through the next room, the interaction between a few of the paintings’ subjects caught my eye. I walked over to have a closer look. What exactly were they doing? What were the stories in these paintings? What was Raphael trying to show through them? I slowly made my way around the rest of the room, carefully taking in the other characters’ stories. There were so many interesting scenes taking place. The more I studied these paintings, the more my curiosity arose.
This kind of curiosity and intrigue, coming from greater observancy, has been a theme of my trip so far. I have realised that it is easy for me to go around and only partly take in what is before me, and end up not going through the process of paying greater attention to detail in an artwork/artefact/building etc., asking questions, having these answered and reaching a deeper understanding of the person/people who created it, and also the context in which it was created, this leading to an increase in my knowledge of history. I just need to ensure I more actively take in my surroundings and ask questions. When one does this, they discover that there are so many interesting things to learn and discover, even about that which seems everyday and familiar to us!
Europe: the place of old buildings, old history and old art. Despite the many centuries of history, she seems to have aged well; like a bottle of wine. Yet despite her graceful aging, I keep on having the eerie sensation that we are merely looking at architectural bones. The sensation began when I was in Bath, England. The Roman baths are interesting, but all that is left are skeletons of what was once there. Granted, the Roman baths were not very well maintained until recent years, but the feeling insisted on following me throughout Spain and Italy, and is not limited solely to architecture, but all art.
The people who created many of the paintings that we see on a daily basis are dead and have been for years. As a result, I’ve been finding it difficult to connect with the art I see, which is the opposite of what I expected, considering the fact that I’m an artist myself.
But the art I’ve seen has simply felt… Dead.
I’m learning that there is a difference between live art, and dead art. Live art are the musicians we pass in the streets, or the Shakespeare play I had the privilege of seeing in London.
Live art, was the artist who sat just outside of the frantic leather market filled with men and women trying to convince tourists that their merchandise was the best. However, this man sat and painted with a calm countenance and wise eyes that gazed at the people that passed him by in the streets of Florence. I sat down next to him and watched him paint for awhile. He worked quickly and efficiently, but his work was beautiful.
We talked about life and about art. As we talked, I realized that the best way to experience art is through people.
People breathe life into art and without them, art is dead.
My journey to Europe started well with my overnight flight landing early in Rome. Connecting with the group at Roma Termini was a bit of a long shot so I raced through customs, grabbed my suitcase and dodged a salesman pretending the Fiumicino shuttle didn’t exist. At Roma Termini I got my Perugia train ticket and took the security lady’s directions to Platform 5. As the train began to move I looked for the group and reached for my suitcase…and reached again. Shoot. Ticket booth? Security lady? No. No. Fiumicino shuttle? Yes. I had set it on a rack before sitting down and focusing on making the 9:30 train. I made the train, but forgot my suitcase.
Before long my suitcase would be a road side yard sale, so I found a staff member (not my group, they caught a different train) who told me I was on the wrong train and my ticket wasn’t validated, so I needed to switch trains at Foligno. She handed my ticket back satisfied she had helped this poor traveller. I then conveyed the problem I had first tried to communicate– my suitcase was on the Fiumicino shuttle. Her face told me she may not be able to fix that.
A call to Roma Termini told her it wasn’t there so the police checked the Fiumicino shuttle. Using my passport, luggage tag and cell number, the suitcase was located and taken back to Roma Termini. She signed the back of my unvalidated ticket so I could reuse it and directed me to the police station at Platform 1 to get my suitcase. Later she said no, it had to be Platform 24. When I disembarked I asked her name – Nadya. Grazi Nadya.
I caught a nap on the ride back, and awoke in Rome to the train slowing down and many people getting ready to step off, so I joined them. Platform 24 had no police station, because I was at Roma Tribuna, so I took the Metro to Roma Termini. Once there I was directed to Platform 1 – but I had been told to go to Platform 24. Oh, in that case, it’s on the right. On the way I came across security lady, who insisted I go to Platform 1. I’m never asking her anything again.
The police station had twelve buttons to buzz in with, all with abbreviations. ITALPOL looked right. No answer. Another try. Nothing. Another abbreviation. Nothing. Three other buttons I had no confidence in. Nothing. Then a lady who looked like a tourist walked up and let me in. There were no signs inside so I guessed and went up three floors where I found the police office, gave my passport over again, and was rewarded with my suitcase.
Off to Perugia again, but without asking security lady. The Italian countryside stretched past for a couple of hours before I saw a sign for Perugia, got off and looked for my bus stop. But I was at Perugia Ponte San Giovanni, not Perugia. Seriously? One more stop, two buses up the hill to Casa Monteripido, and I joined the group just in time for dinner. Just far enough away from my plethora of mistakes, I accepted their warm welcome.
New friends gained, one not new friend, an extra city visited, and successful entry to a slightly sketchy police station. Lessons learned? Sleep on the plane, especially when going to new places alone. Chain your luggage to yourself. And get off at your actual stop, not one that sounds like it.
I have many stories but I’ll keep to a few updates: yes I almost died, no I haven’t been arrested and I am doing well. We went hiking at Montserrat here in Spain. I got lost on the trail at a dead end and started climbing a a few rock shelves seeking breathtaking views. So naturally I climbed more and eventually ended up on a shelf with a majestic view of the valley. It made me reflect on the struggle of the Catalonians and how this was their place of refuge when the Spanish were oppressing them. Seeing the view and having a small window into what kind of energy was required to reach such a place left me awestruck. Then I started a steep descent which resulted in the soil beneath me giving out, I went head over heels 15 feet down the hill and landed straddled on a tree. Despite initial fears I did not break my left leg and instead walked away with many cuts and a fairly swollen shin. After being lost for another half hour or so I did find the way down. This small experience helped me understand that this trip has a lot to offer if you take the time to seek out quiet places and take a few minutes to rest in where you are.
Our time here in Barcelona has been very quick, it seems like yesterday we landed from London. Yet, soon we leave. Yesterday, we visited Park Güell and the Sagrada Familia, two great monuments designed by Gaudi the famous architect. After crossing the city we scaled what seemed to be 100 flights of steps before arriving at the forest like park which overlooks the city. The park struck me as ancient with its red rocks but its crushed rock paths and rock columns create a semi man-made feel. The trees were somewhat ordered placement but it really did have a forest like feel. The day wore on, spending time talking, pondering, feeling and being in that park and its inspired Gaudi monuments (he also designed the park). The whole park felt like a big place of refuge. Many gathering places, places to perform, places to play, and higher up on the hill there were places for quiet, away from the rustle of people who flocked to the lower section of the park armed with cameras. Amid this experience, I was grateful for the space in the city to be, to stop, and reflect. How am I affected?
In The Vatican, I was herded from one room to the next amongst the droves of tourists. I felt like a cow being led to my slaughter. The paintings themselves reflected the chaos as scenes of war, heaven, hell, and history were packed full with the characters of stories and legends. It was in this atmosphere of chaos that I found one piece that stood out and amazed me beyond understanding and expectation. It was one of those contemporary pieces that many, including myself, struggle to understand the reason for their place in the halls of fame; one that many may deem to be too simple to be beautiful. A black canvas with an imperfect thin, white circle stood amongst the likes of Chagall, Dali, and Picasso. For the first time, I was able to draw incredible meaning from an abstract piece that I would otherwise struggle to understand. It was exactly its imperfection and simplicity that captivated me. My original thoughts were simple, mere observations. White on black. White circle and perfection. Then I thought of the imperfection of the white circle and my thoughts grew deeper. Is this representation of purity more true to the reality of purity; something that is less than the expectation? I began to compare my understanding of its commentary on purity to its place in the Vatican. My thoughts spiralled out of control and sent me into a trance that will forever exist in eternity. Certainly my writing cannot explain my trance, but there was a theme of humanity’s attempt to contain what can’t be contained. The space inside the circle was just the same as that outside of it. This piece (of which I don’t know the name or artist, nor care to know for it may pollute my perception) changed me. It was the first time that my mind feasted on something so annoyingly abstract and it was delicious.
Goodness gracious. Haven’t we had a merry collection of experiences already. Chasing film sets from childhood films, wandering down streets that had previously only been known from photographs and time diluted stories. Monuments known across the globe become buildings that certain among our numbers have taken selfies in front of. Not so sure how I feel about that last one. So too do we look into a collection of parts of the world that have seen their hey-days and begun to shine out to the world through interactions of legacy and floundering societal control. We have wandered through the seat of power of the empire that, for better or worse, made our homes possible. We have seen its relics and walked where paragons of human developmental fields have learned their trades and passed on ideas to their peers. But so too do we go through streets that are only reflections of those times. Smoky air and sky-scraping towers of glass and steel erupt all around those relics of times gone and dusted. There is a sense of crumbling mixed into the stabled facade of these old towns. It can be somewhat threatening.
But all in all, everyone seems to be well. High spirits are voiced, unique scenarios and locations become interesting accounts, and unusual inside jokes take root. Were I to write “pwoft,” or “uncle that steals the silverware,” a smile might cross a face or two in times to come. Time will tell whether that will truly be the case. It will be good to find out in the coming weeks. Onward we go then.
[Alannah DeJong, a 2nd year student at SSU, recently participated in Uprooted – a Learning Tour with Mennonite Central Committee to the Northern and Southern borders of Mexico. The three week tour explored themes of migration and peace building. This blog post originally appeared on the Uprooted blog.]
This past semester I learned about dehumanization. Simply put, dehumanization happens when a group of people is seen as “less than human” by another group. By giving a different name and attributing only a single story to this group, it becomes easier to justify their mistreatment. In my own experience, these kinds of dehumanizing tendencies are sometimes shown when it comes to migrants. Naturally, on this learning tour which focuses on migration and peacebuilding, we have had some important discussions about migration. These have continued here in Mexico City. We have learned that there are many different reasons for which a person might migrate. Someone might decide to leave their home because of economic opportunities elsewhere, or because of environmental dangers. Someone may migrate in order to be reunited with family members, or simply for a change in scenery. Some people leave their homes because they will be killed if they stay. There is no single migrant story.
Being on this trip has allowed me to broaden my understanding of what a migrant is. I have come to the realization that a migrant is someone who has left one place to move to another. I am a migrant if I leave my home country for fear of persecution. I am a migrant if I move to another province for a job. Migrants are not all victims. Migrants are not all criminals. Migrants are not all poor. There is no single migrant story.
During our time in Mexico City so far, we have been able to visit some of the spaces that shelter migrants along their journeys. Within these shelters are incredibly beautiful pieces of art painted by some of the people who have stayed there. I would like to share pictures of a few murals in CAFEMIN, a family migrant shelter that also provides workshops in areas such as baking, sewing, and computers for the people staying there:
The message of these murals is one of humanization. They bring humanity to the topic of migration in a powerful way; by countering the disassociation that sometimes occurs when migrants are concerned. It is important not to fall into the tendency of dehumanization. I know that the pain in the world is so great, and it is often easier to talk about people as though they are a little less than people. It makes life easier to bear. But if I take a step back, I remember that Jesus was a migrant, and that I myself am a descendent of migrants. Yet I also remember that migrants are people deserving of human rights and dignity not because I am related to migrants, or worship a God who was one, but simply because they are people.
London is an incredible city, known for many things, such as the theatre culture that exists. I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Phantom of the Opera, which has been playing in London for over 20 years. This is one of the many musicals that calls London home, as one could attend a different theatre performance every night for a month and still not see all that London has to offer. The theatre life is a source of evening entertainment for many people, as each theatre holds several hundred people if not a thousand.
It has been my dream to attend the Phantom of the Opera and I was willing to pay whatever it cost. It was worth every penny, as the play came alive through all of the different songs and performers who act out the roles with everything they have. The musical was spectacular and a vast contrast to the types of art that we explored in London during the day. I consider museums and art galleries to be filled with dead art and musicals and plays to be filled with live art. There are so many different types of art in the city that there is something there for everyone. I really enjoyed my time in London, and would gladly go back to have another experience of the rich culture that exists.
After arriving in Barcelona, we unpacked and had a wonderful 3 course supper. On Monday morning we took our daily bus into the city center to explore and learn about Barcelona. This form of transit was quite different compared to our ‘tube’ Underground experience in London, as a bus isn’t quite prepared for an onslaught of 25 extra people. Nevertheless, we jammed into the bus and headed into Barcelona. Personally I love looking at new and unique buildings, and as we traveled this was my first time experiencing this Catalonian city. As we got close to Plaza Espanya, I saw a large circular stadium approaching. I became more and more excited and was in awe, as we approached the home of Barcelona FC, the football “soccer” team’s stadium.
Indeed, I love sports and it energizes me to see where they are played. So as I admired the largeness, colour, and architecture of this majestic building, Stefan spoke to me. He said “Isn’t it beautiful.” To this I responded, ‘Yes.’ There was a moment of silence and then I realized what he was actually talking about. Stefan was looking at the beautiful monument, which was right in the middle of the traffic circle. This became an aha moment for me, as to how we can be seeing and experiencing all sorts of different things. In London, I loved looking at monuments, but here in Barcelona the football stadium was the building that stood out to me.
[The fifth in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]
Driving into the Mattagami First Nation I was taken aback by how beautiful the area is. Situated along the Mattagami river, spruce and birch trees line the community while the lingering rain clouds add an air of mystery and green signs of spring to the forest floor. The houses were plain, two stories with trucks in the driveway. The buildings, small. As we drove in we kept turning left, up the hill to the band building. Our big group walked inside and was ushered through a small curved hallway into Chief Walter Naveau’s office, there he greeted us.
Only a few could fit inside the office and, as my attention turned, I heard him quietly tell Lyndsey, our MCC representative, that his own son had asked if the residential schools actually existed. Continuing on about miseducation, Walter said that after 150 years of learning someone else’s history, it was time the people learn their own. He said, “how can we learn someone else’s history and culture when we don’t even know our own.” His office has taken three years to develop a module curriculum in which the people of Mattagami are able to learn their people’s history. The people of Mattagami are now able to learn their own history and traditions in order to find their identity.
I have been learning that a result of residential schools and restriction of First Nation peoples to a reserve has resulted in a loss of identity. Symptoms of that loss include addictions to drugs and alcohol and most importantly; suicide. For generations Anishinaabe people have been told that their traditions, such as sweat lodge, smoking pipe, engaging in ceremony, and doing round dances (all part of their culture and spirituality) are evil. They adopt the mentality of the white man but at the same time are not accepted in the white man’s world.
Today elders in Mattagami do not approve of playing the drum, or performing ceremony. They are scared of the spirituality the actions bring because they believed the white man’s lie. The lie that their spirituality is wrong. Instead, ignoring and losing their traditions has resulted in loss of identity and brought on a reality of youth suicide pacts like those in Attawapiskat. Losing their traditions has brought more harm than good and Chief Walter is doing everything he can to bring back native customs by teaching their history and the real truth behind residential schools.
Once, in his youth, Walter was addicted to drugs and suicidal. The first moment he experienced a drum circle he knew who he was and his life turned around. Now he dedicates his life to rebuilding his community by giving his people identity through education and experiences like the one that changed his life. The admirability of his story impacted me. I believe that First Nations people can bring themselves out of their identity crisis as long as they can find who they are once again through the renewing of traditional practices.
[The fourth in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]
Well folks, here we are in Timmins, a city so dusty that many of the graffiti tags are done with fingertips on glass windows (I don’t know whether to blame the spring, the mining, or the unfrequented selection of roads along our route). This marks the beginning of the segment of our journey with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) for the Aski Learning Tour. Today was a day of exploration. We started with a presentation by CreeGeo Mushkegowuk Information Services, and from there set out on winding back roads that surrounded our train of vehicles with grey clouds of dust to get to Miken-otaski. When the tall teepee and glow of the warm fire became visible, we were welcomed with smiles and got the opportunity to participate in a traditional cookout consisting of goose, moose, bannock, dumplings, and Labrador tea. After our stomachs were stretched to their full capacity, Annie pulled out a box of freshly caught whitefish to smoke over the fire. We stood in awe as she dexterously decapitated and gutted the fish. However, we were not warned that we were standing directly in the splash zone of the gory deed. That’s a story for another time, but I just had to mention this incredible feast.
The real highlight of my day was what began as nothing more than an impromptu stroll. Amanda (the 14-year-old daughter of our MCC Learning Tour coordinator, Lyndsay) led me down the trail to see an older cloth teepee on a nearby site while pointing out different plant species and their uses along the way. We found that the teepee had been taken down, but I learned a lot from the 4-foot-something wealth of knowledge on the expedition. In addition to the typical conversations about school, pets, and family, she told me about exciting and hilarious encounters with animals in the woods we were travelling in, identified droppings, and explained several traditional ceremonies. By this time, we had been joined by a few more members of the group. We decided to make the most of this time by doing some exploring in the area surrounding the trail. In the clear, flat area where the old cloth teepee once stood, we came across scattered bones of some poor unfortunate soul that were picked clean. Among these remains was a spine, the size of each vertebra comparable to a small dog’s pelvis. Based on this enormity, it was unanimously decided by our bunch of unqualified people that this thing must have once held a moose together. In myself, this discovery revealed a possibly morbid fascination in skeletal systems and paleontology.
Don’t fret: this little excursion did not pass by without a lesson. If I hadn’t gone on this little hike or cut up my legs by trudging through thorns and branches in the woods, I wouldn’t have found those bones. I wouldn’t have had my interest in historical traces peaked, and I wouldn’t have learned from Amanda. Something I’ve noticed in my observations of the First Nations cultures is the great amount of value they place in the passing-down of knowledge and tradition. Amanda (an indigenous girl herself) is more aware of her culture’s traditions than any non-indigenous person her age that I’ve met. I myself know close to nothing in comparison about my own ancestral history, but a new determination to dig for it has been placed in me. Like the moose bones and truths about First Nations, it will have to be intentionally sought after. In the same way, if you don’t go out seeking answers and truths for First Nations issues, you won’t find them. They are intentionally buried, and you won’t just stumble upon them by walking along the beaten path. The government and the public make sure of this by working hard to conceal the abominations to this nation and to our own unearned European dignity. If we sweep all of our unflattering history under the rug, we won’t ever need to address it– out of sight, out of mind. But the truth is that it did happen, and it’s time to move the rug and clean it up. The key is knowing where we come from and who we are, awareness, and education– whether it be self-education, curriculum-based education in school, or educating the public on corrected misconceptions of indigenous issues and the people themselves.
On another note: although today I ate moose meat for the first time- heck, I even held the very core of the animal’s physical body in my hands- I still have yet to see a living, breathing moose. I’ve made it one of my goals on this trip to spot at least one of these (increasingly likely to be mythical) creatures, which has proven to be a challenge. Wish me luck.
[The third in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]
We met with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) on Friday, April 29th, 2016. We were scheduled to meet with Jon Thompson, the Director of Health & Social Development, but were also given the pleasure of dialoguing with one of his associates William David. William David was “the mining guy”, being heavily involved in mining policy at the AFN. He was an extremely articulate gentleman with an incredible breadth of both educational as well as hands-on experience.
We talked about many things including the AFN’s relationship with the Hill, how change is made in policy and government, First Nations people’s right to self-determination and how to engage non-aboriginal people in conversations about First Nation’s issues. However, by far, what has most securely captured my attention are William’s words concerning people and the terrible things they do.
It is so easy to demonize those that commit human rights violations. Their actions are often so shocking that they quickly become an all encompassing label, excluding the possibility that the subject in question was anything but an atrocious human being. However, William had a unique perspective that helped to frame human rights perpetrators in a much more forgiving and human light. While not removing the responsibility of any given person for their actions, Will added a specific qualifier, which also served as a challenge for those who wished to be a force of positive change in the world. He said that people, as in, anybody, can do the most dangerous things when they are uncritical of what they are doing and the systems that they serve.
It can be easy to do something terrible unintentionally, especially if a person is not critical about what they are doing or what they are supporting. Sometimes, the tendency is to imagine that those who have committed the worst human rights violations were terrible from the start, perverted by nature and only committed these specific crimes after hours of prolonged thought about how to make the world a worse place than it was before. However, Will’s perspective allows for a much more nuanced approach. Anybody has the potential to do terrible things. Everyone is capable of great evil, but they are also capable of great good.
In this case, the worst actions are conceived when people to not take the time to think about what they are doing or who they are supporting. People must learn to take the time to reflect on their lives, especially on how their actions might affect others. Rarely do our choices only affect ourselves, more often, they have a wide reaching impact on both those dear to us but also on those unknown to us. The world is an interconnected web of relationships and systems, therefore, it is imperative that we examine both our relationships as well as the strings that run between the various systems of which we are apart. No man is an island; everyone belongs to the system of the world and each of us is responsible to our neighbor at home and abroad.
[The second in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]
It’s a beautiful morning here in the capital as we gather ourselves to cars and head down to the Bronson Center. We are scheduled to meet Ian and Katie from KAIROS this morning and the group seems to be buzzed to see what’s in store for us. We arrive into a jungle of an office; trees and plants climbing over stacks of books, the sun streaming in the windows over the ensemble of broken furniture patched together to form a communal table. We gather and share names and stories.
KAIROS, a Canadian Ecumenical justice initiative, partners with existing advocacy groups in countries and communities that ask for help to support the local efforts around advocacy. Today, we learned that, on the Canadian front, KAIROS partners with the Legacy of Hope Foundation. The two have put their efforts into raising Canadian awareness around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action which focuses around the impact of residential schools and their negative inter-generational impact.
Right now, their approach to the conversation is through education as practical action. To accomplish this goal KAIROS’ employees and teachers use the acronym EPIC: Engage, State the Problem, Inform about Solutions, Call to Action. They provide material such as Education for Reconciliation Action Toolkit to engage audiences. Anyone can obtain this toolkit, take it back to their communities, and introduce these topics to groups, students, and friends. In the booklet they state that their goal is, “to ensure every Canadian child learns about the Indian Residential Schools, Treaties, colonization and the contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples to Canada’s past and present and can then be a leader in the long-term work of reconciliation.” Approaching education through truthful story telling will teach children, as upcoming leaders, how to make better decisions for our collective future.
Through this conversation the inclusion of the Indigenous voices is the only way to change perspective and approach for this conversation to continue within each specific community across Canada. The goal of KAIROS calls us as citizens to acknowledge a responsibility we have to our country–peoples to share the true history of our ‘home and native land’ so all it’s residents can be ‘glorious and free.’
My intention after hearing their passion for the education of individuals and after gathering their materials is to practically apply this to my life back in Halifax. Ian and Katie have connected me with some local partners in my area and I am anticipating how I can contribute my skills in a practical and helpful way when I return home.
[The first in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]
We have started off our Learning Tour in the nation’s capital. We have quickly found that Ottawa is filled with many kinds of people. We met with the staff at Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) Ottawa office this morning. This was a great way to start off our trip seeing that we will be with MCC in Timmins next week. Rebecca (policy analyst) and Esther (intern) had a great amount of wisdom to share with us about advocacy work.
Throughout the day the significance of community was brought to my attention. There is value in spending time with people over a long period. Nothing can replace this time it takes to build a strong community. Yet there is also significance in finding others to partner with. Individuals and groups can and do make a difference but they cannot make change alone. As Rebecca and Esther shared about their work it was apparent that they have the same heart that the SSU community shares.
Rebecca and Esther are constantly learning and sharing about people and the issues that they face. For them every person they meet matters. They celebrate when one person sees victory in a situation that they have been facing. They shared a story about one indigenous man in Canada who had been stateless for most of his life. This means that he didn’t have a birth certificate and therefore could not get necessary documents for living in western society. He could not get a driver’s license, health card, loan, or even legal guardianship of his children. When our goal is seeing the value of people, we shift from trying to make an issue go away, to helping find a solution for each person.
We learned that we each have different roles to play in advocacy but there are key political actions we can all participate in. The first thing to remember is that the politicians we elect into office work for us. It is important to tell them what matters to you. One way to talk to an elected official is to set up a meeting. Another way is to write them a letter. Writing a letter is easy and the great thing is that there is free postage when sending a letter to your MP. Another great way of supporting an issue that matters to you is to either start or sign a petition.
By the end of our time at MCC it was clear that education matters and can make the greatest difference. I am so thankful that we have this time to learn from people who are devoting their lives to listening to and helping others. It is like a web that will be ever extending: after this trip we each will be going home to our communities. We have an opportunity to share what we have learned and hopefully those we share with will tell others too.
When our group was touring Parliament I saw the potential influence we each have. We stepped into the elevator of the Peace Tower at the end of the tour. We were filled with awe and wonder and apparently bubbling enthusiasm. The tour had just taken us through elaborate architectural feats where we heard about some Canadian history and saw many pieces of art (these are some of our favourite things). As the elevator reached the top of the tower the attendant told us to turn around to see the bells. We were amazed! The attendant said that she never saw anyone get so excited to see them. Our excitement and questions opened up all kinds of conversations with everyone we met during the day.
Some may say that we are just a small group of nerdy young people. This is probably true but at the heart of it all we are filled with wonder. Each of us in our own way has a passion for seeing the greatness of our world. We are going to take this opportunity to learn and understand.
We’re in Laoag city. Walking to the market this morning, the air’s warmth hugs my body. It’s eight a.m. and the sun’s rays are delicate but assuring. Getting anywhere requires the utmost alertness of the senses since the vehicular and pedestrian traffic are off the hook and sometimes indistinguishable one from the other. People just hang off the sides of buses, bikes and jeepneys, jumping on and off as they please. To cross the street is to risk being run down by a swarm of tricycles or a big truck carrying boxes of fruit or cases of glass bottles of coca cola.
We miraculously manage to arrive at the market. All of us. In one piece. As soon as we go into the tent we are enthusiastically approached by several vendors with menus all boasting a number of dishes I have never heard of. These women are brilliant; all four of us buy an empanada and watch as one woman’s experienced hands roll out the bright orange dough and stuff it with fresh papaya, mango, local longanisa and then crack an egg into it.
As our empanadas sizzle in the deep fryer we fidget with a box-like machine that apparently produces coffee. I jam a five peso piece into the money slot and a small paper cup pops out of the bottom of the box which then fills the cup with a murky liquid that looks just like river water. I shyly ask the empanada lady if this is normal. She shyly tells me to “taste” as though if I liked it she would confirm its normality but if I didn’t she would do what she could to remedy the situation, obviously eager to please. After I awkwardly and apologetically reject the river water, she makes me a new coffee. It’s sticky and sweet.
By this time the empanadas are hot and crisp. We sit down at a table with a red gingham plastic tablecloth, which is promptly equipped with local vinegar and banana ketchup. I douse my empanada in vinegar and crunch into it; the egg is yokey, the fruit sweet and the longanisa spicy and rich. I’m in the Philippines and I’ve just bitten into the beginning of a two month long oriental adventure.
The sound of the tires reminds me of the speed and power around me. This bus is moving us towards our goal. Dimly it is lit, with red lights beckoning for attention. Headphones are in, and we are engaged with tones. Twenty-two of us. Sitting and waiting for movement.
This grey tube whining in the darkness, saying, ‘here I am, here I come.’ Screaming with energy and force, its hundreds of working parts are placed together to form a solid, automation of movement. Here I sit amongst it all. An impermeable membrane that tends to sweat in heat. A mass that has connections that make a consciousness that is aware; that it is aware.
Like the automobile the membrane is made up of hundreds ,if not thousands of parts. Working together to make movement. But is there a difference in the purpose, in the nature of the moment?
Both have destinations. The vehicle runs till it breaks down and cannot support the movement any longer. The membrane or the body, is the same. It goes till it cannot go anymore. It all depends on the make and model.
If we derive purpose from consciousness aren’t we just fooling ourselves. The body function is to carry the being that lives in infinity. Who lives in a world of pulses and chemicals; semi-connected to the rest of the world. The automobile carries people to their destinations. It takes people places, it kills people. But yet it is not conscious.
The bus keeps whining as we come around the turn. It is quiet. It’s 2:30 in the morning; darkness surrounds us. While the bus keeps moving my thoughts turn to my past travels. The warmth of the East, the people and its smells. The smell that gets into your senses. Rising up even in your thoughts. Words become the smell. Grimy,dirty, garbage and sometimes the subtle smell of the fragrance of the breeze from the mountains. At last the bus stops whining, but other voices are heard.
Excitement is impeded on the soul by careless people. They don’t know what’s ahead. The pain, the smells, the last memories of leaving a home that was so foreign, yet had become like home.
Never in my life have I known what attending a beauty pageant is like. After this experience I cannot say the same. Northwestern University put on a “Mr. And Ms. University” beauty pageant. Why? I will never know, but I can speculate!
Filipinos love to perform in the spotlight. Normally, they are modest and shy but they love to put on a show when given the correct outlet. Naturally they are attracted to the glitz and glamour of a beauty pageant. It allows them to dress-up in rolls of sparkly sequins and seven-inch heels. They have the confidence to strut their stuff on stage and show the crowd how good they are at entertaining.
So there I was, one of twenty white people on campus being ushered to sit well near the front (the 2nd row to be exact) in order to see best because we are guests. The sound booming from the speakers pulsated in my ears and palpitated against my heart. I sat back to experience the show for what it was. A college organized Filipino beauty pageant.
The girls in the bleachers went crazy when their favorite male contestant gave them a twinkling shoulder, while the men waited for the swimsuit competition so they could gawk at the women they would never obtain.
When the swimsuit competition finally started I had no choice but to watch as fourteen 15 to 19 year olds strutted their stuff on stage. Luckily Ate Jonah, my host mother, sat next to me and used her uproarious laughter to help me see the humor in the displays of half-nude, half-legal collegiates. Together we chuckled at the young men and women who tastefully bared it all in hopes of winning the pageant crown. Several times we broke out laughing when the young men posed as if they were highly sought after hunky models.
Northwestern University used local celebrities as judges and gave away awards from sponsors. The pageant contestants received grants and prizes as round one of awards seemed never ending. The students who participate have the opportunity to receive grants and prizes from local and national businesses. Receiving such prestigious awards can be an enticing incentive for any student to join in the competition.
As the loud award ceremony came to an end my Ate told us it was time to leave. We would be unable to stay for the evening gown competition and second round of awards. It was only 9:15 and the crowns would not be awarded until midnight! Thankful to make it out of there with my eardrums still intact, I could not help but take the whole experience as a Filipino cultural event. That night I went to bed feeling like I understood Filipinos just a bit better.
From the road that I stood on, I could see the ocean. With sweat beading on my forehead and rolling into my eyes, nothing could have stopped me from making the trek toward that break. I stepped off of the pavement and onto the faded dirt path that entered into the foliage. It zigzagged, mimicking the river that flowed to my right. I stepped over a decaying tree and took a sharp turn to my left where a skinny cow blocked my way. Shocked by the beast, I froze. Then I laughed. I scooted around her and found my way again. Ducking, dodging, weaving, walking. Sweat was pouring down my face at this point and my shirt was getting darker. I watched every step as I was wary of snakes (my greatest nemesis). The forest was thick with palm branches and bamboo shoots. The healthy dark green leaves were masked by shadows as the 2 o’clock sun shone from above. A vine caught my foot and I stumbled, but only for a second. I felt embarrassed but I don’t know why.
I heard the ocean now. The waves crashing beckoned me toward them. The river’s current was growing stronger. Its banks had been a dark, rich brown and their solidity was maintained by the roots of the trees. Now the structured walls lost their form and turned to sand. I followed the now sandy path along a gradual bend to the left. Around the corner it emerged in all its vastness and glory. Rolling waves thundered when they hit the packed wet sandy shore.
I picked up my pace until I was running. I kicked off my shoes and waded through the knee high river that was now emptying into the ocean. On the other side I stripped down to my boxers, stumbling over my pants and throwing away my shirt. I ran in up to my waist and then dove into the first wave that hit me! Oh it was refreshing! I couldn’t have chosen a more perfect temperature. It was cold but not shocking, just enough to rejuvenate me instantly. The salt tasted like freedom. I was smiling ear to ear and let the ocean pull me out just a little. I lay on my back and felt the life of the ocean through my whole body. It heals. The ocean heals everything. It heals physical, mental, and spiritual injuries. I could feel it healing me. Healing my cuts. Healing my stress. Healing my longing for God.
I rode a wave to the shore and let it wash me up. I laid there for a moment, letting the waves that followed massage my legs. Finally I stood up and took four steps forward and sat down to study its ways. It’s simple. In that moment nothing mattered. Everything made sense. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath in through my nose. The salty air gave me life. I wanted more. I kept breathing with my eyes closed. In through the nose. Out through the nose. In. Out. In. Out. I opened my eyes and looked out across the empty space that stretched to the horizon.
There are two sides to everything, two extremes to every situation. Coming to the Philippines was a great example of that. Before coming here we talked about how there is not much of a middle class in the Philippines. It is one extreme or the other. Rich or poor.
Driving through the Philippines, on the way to Laoag city, we would pass slum communities where houses were made out of plywood and tin roofs. In the middle of the slums there were huge beautiful palaces. They seemed so out of place. It made me realize just how huge the difference between the rich and the poor really was. I was able to see first hand how closely related the rich and the poor were as well. It is heartbreaking to see how some people can own such huge houses and live in such luxury while in their back yard there are people living in huts with no money at all.
Our home stay in Laoag was another example. I stayed with the vice president of North Western University. They had an amazing house. Complete with a spiral staircase, and a bathroom in every room. The kitchen was huge, and there was a beautiful balcony that overlooked the university. There were only three people living in this mansion. These people were rich even by American standards. While we were living in luxury there where others whose home stays didn’t even have running water, some where families slept on the floor. Some had huge extended families all living in the same tiny house.
Laoag had this mix of rich and poor everywhere you went but nothing compares to what I saw when we got to Manila. Driving through town, my heart broke for the people on the street and the state they live in. As we drove we saw families whose whole life was in bags and scattered along the side of the road. They slept on pavement and begged for money during the day. Every time we passed a person living on the street it made me sick to my stomach. No one should have to live like this. Street children are common here. They walk around trying to get money any way they can, even by stealing and pick pocketing.
I felt even worst when we got to where we were having a museum tour. This was in the rich part of Manila. There were rich people everywhere you looked, Filipinos, Americans, and many others. There were highend restaurants and brand name stores like Hugo Boss, Gucci, Mark Jacobs, etc. I couldn’t believe these lush gardens and beautiful patios were here. There were no street people anywhere. Only the rich. I couldn’t believe this place was here when such a sort distance away there are families with no money for food or money to put a roof of any kind over their heads. The people in this district walked around with not a care in the world, completely oblivious to what is happening in their city.
The Philippines is an amazing place but there is such heartbreak everywhere you look. I could not believe the contrast between the rich and the poor. I had read, and people had told me about it. But it is so different when you see it for yourself, when it is you that a street woman holding a baby is crying out to for help, and, when you live in the huge beautiful houses surrounded by the poor. It is different when you see first hand the smiles as well as the sad faces of the street children just trying to survive, when you see for yourself the two extremes.
It’s hard to believe that two weeks have passed already and that our time in the Philippines is drawing to a close. We end our time in the capital, Manila, where we began. My first impression was that, aside from the heat it wasn’t all that different from back home, from Calgary. The streets were plastered with huge ads (and to my surprise, most of them were in English too), and filled with Filipinos. My high school experience consisted largely in building relationships with Filipinos, the majority ethnicity of my school.
On the long drive to Laoag my impression began gradually to change. For the first two days there things were comfortable. We stayed in a Westernized hotel where there were hot showers, toilet paper and Western toilets, where squatting was optional.
In our home stay family things began to change. The people were absolutely lovely, but they had a very different way of living. Showers consisted of pumping water into a bucket and then throwing that over my head. But I didn’t mind at all; it saved water and to forced me to shower quickly.
Religion here was also an interesting experience. With the Philippines being the third largest Catholic country in the world, I had set my hopes very highly. At mass in downtown Laoag, the church was so full I had to stand at the back, one of probably over 500 people. Our host mother told us that mass is said hourly at St. Williams on Sundays, and that all of them were this busy. People leaving mass were bombarded by street children trying to sell flowers, balloons, rosaries and many other things.
At North Western University, the school we were attending, I encountered more non-Catholic Filipinos than Catholic. My roommate and I had an interesting experience when we took public transit to Pagudpud, two hours away, with our host mother and her sister. As they were loading the bus, a woman began speaking in a loud voice in a language I did not understand. She stood at the front, facing everyone, closing her eyes and swaying as if reciting something; she then opened a book and said in a thick accent a Gospel name and a verse and then continued speaking. She was preaching! The bus crew worked around her without even batting an eye. She then went around asking for what she pegged in English a “love offering” and then left.
I don’t doubt that the conversation about religion will continue, but in a completely different way, since Malaysia is filled mostly with Muslims. As sad as I am to leave the Philippines, I am looking forward to the next leg of my journey, as I’m sure I will continue to grow and learn in ways what I could never anticipate!
I came into this world of small alleys and busy streets. The ways are littered with tricycles and jeepneys. The hustle and bustle of this strange world seems like a reflection of myself. Laoag city is very confusing at the first glance, but it becomes a system of confusion and a strange order within itself. For such a small town boy, realizing all of this so soon was weird. Overwhelming. There is a strange phenomenon that happens when one enters the city. The crazy buzzing and humming of the motorcycles becomes something you count on, and becomes quiet, just as the feeling of being overwhelmed becomes ‘normal’?. You get used to weaving through crowds of people and being the center of attention, and the struggles and challenges of everyday life become as smooth as dealing with the masses. Being the center of attention becomes an intentional humbler: realizing that you don’t deserve this special godly initiation that is presented upon you. The power of being white is strong, but not taking advantage of this weakens it, and I am humbled to do so. The dark smog that overcomes the city is lifted. I realize that in all of the commotion, there is an order, just like in my dull mind.
I miss home. I miss the quiet ignorance of the everyday, the dulling silence that we think sharpens us in our slow, uneventful, and unchallenging lives. The quietness that we are comfortable in, of not having to be aware of anyone else’s comfort, is a soothing thing. Being a guest in the busy streets creates a lean edge on psyche. Thinking that I am separate from this world back at home destroys our humility; it heightens our sense of self. That aura radiates from us. As we roam through the madness and get lost, we get treated like gods, but we realize that this is our wrong. This makes us humble, heightened in the world, sharp, stronger, harder. It helps lift the chaos of the city, and makes us one with our mind. Because the city is made by us, just like the clouds in our head.
Journeys: you either have too much time on your hands or not enough. But what do we do in those periods of waiting? The way I see it, there are only a couple of options: 1) converse with others, 2) mindlessly look at a screen of some sort, 3) adventure of any kind, or, 4) take the opportunity of silence and just sit with your thoughts. (Most times I choose the 4th option).
As an introvert I have always understood the value of being alone. It not only recharges me, it gives me time to collect myself and my thoughts. Though, the funny thing is, on group trips you go in with the assumption, or at least I did, that alone time is scarce, that you have to snatch any opportunity you can to be alone. I have discovered that that is not necessarily the case. No one truly realizes all the time you spend traveling from place to place. As well as the amount of time travel gives you to be alone with your thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wondrous opportunity when needed. But what I am noticing is that it can be a very dangerous thing too.
It can be dangerous when you are in a place of wonder and questioning. Or, when you can feel yourself slowly changing and wanting to change, I think spending too much time in your head can cause you to be sucked into a whirlwind, a chaos that is created by your own thoughts. This is when old things can start to resurface. This is when we get caught up in our own problems. But what we need to learn is to be in the present moment, and, to voice the things we are having trouble with. Especially on a trip like this.
One of the things I am starting to learn is: there is such a thing as too much alone time. (And all the introverts in the world gasped and said, “Too much alone time?! I have never heard such absurd statement.”) Yes, I said it. But it’s true. Balance is needed in everything we do. As well, you can take the time to be alone, even when people surround you. It sounds like an oxymoron, but if you think about it, you’ll realize it’s true.
This isn’t a new revelation; this train of thought has probably been expressed time and time again. But we need to discover things of this nature on our own. Alone time is precious, but make sure you don’t miss what this world has to offer.
Something you may not know about me is that I am an avid lizard watcher. I love the way they scurry around from place to place, displaying their impressive dexterity and agility. Throughout our stay here in Laoag, I have had ample time to pursue this obsession.
One hot afternoon I found myself down by the river, underneath the bridge, drinking a less than cold beer and chewing on some dried mangoes when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. It was motionless, about four inches long, blended in with the pillar it was sitting on. In the background some children and tattooed teenagers were swimming in the river as a man washed his dishes in the muddied water. I sat and watched this magnificent lizard for a moment, but when I moved in for a closer inspection, it took off. With lightening speed it raced down the pillar and headed over to where a half-naked man was cooking a couple of fish that he had recently caught with his spear gun.
As I moved closer, the man with his old portable stove-top offered me some of the fish that he had put the effort into catching, presumably for his family, who were also gathered around. I gladly accepted his generosity and proceeded to eat with them, all the while keeping an eye on my lizard friend.
The lizard slowly made its way toward a pregnant girl, who happened to be 18 years old, and holding a child that looked to be around the age of two. She told me she worked at the carnival nearby, in one of the booths, and that her husband also worked there. They were from Manila, and only in Laoag temporarily. She was very pretty, and made me promise to visit her at her booth later when she would be working. When she noticed the stealthy lizard by her leg, she shooed it away, causing it to dart past where a feral cat was lazily walking along, and, into a crack and out of sight. That was the end of that lizard adventure.
I don’t know how much Europe really influenced my zeitgeist (/worldview/opinions/whatever). Europe was a circuit tour where I always felt like my face was up against a pane of (metaphorical) glass. And, honestly, there’s something isolating and experiential in existing in a neutral zone between cultures (yours and your ‘host’s’). It feels as though your walk changes, your eyes scan at a different pace, and one’s soul tenses. I find cities always feel something like this. Yet in a culturally familiar country one is concealed: abroad, this same sensation exposes a person. You feel as though a part of your being is revealed, open, displayed before eyes recreating you with guttural and romantic language systems you can’t hope to intuit. One becomes aware (in both situations) of the existential gaps in understanding, thought, and meaning between any two individuals, and how deep these chasms truly are.
But in the same breath, there’s a comfort in being removed from place. Certain habits of thought, quirks of personality, and routines of action loosen when you can’t hope to expect what the people around you care for or how they consider you. If you can work through the pressure something unwinds from your perspective on reality. The contours of the world relax and the horizon widens. Familiar sights, once a comfort, are like blinds released and you feel as though you can see the world as you ought to. What I’m saying is simple: one becomes more in tune with their place on this planet once they lose the social cues and expectations they’ve thrived upon since birth. Despite the angst, this can be wonderful.
I have this stubborn drive to get myself lost while travelling. I’ve stuck to this habit since I was 17, and Europe gave me plenty of opportunity to exercise the wander impulse. Contrary to what most people imagine, getting lost in a metropolitan city (during the day) can be relaxing. My first day in Vienna was sparked by stepping off the bus and realizing that my map of the city had gone AWOL. Believing downtown to be somewhere northeast, and not especially concerned, I worked my way northward. Eventually I stumbled on to an urban walking trail (which are pleasantly common to Vienna) which led me through some of the loveliest metropolitan woods I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. This winding, uphill trail took me into a small residential district, and from there I followed a busy looking road eastward. My rationale was that all busy urban roads lead downtown at some junction (I wasn’t wrong; I was maybe 10 minutes outside of downtown). From there I turned downhill (desperately needing a bathroom: every wanderer’s bane) through the longest residential district on the planet. I ended up in a small, smoky bar in a calm shopping and office district, where I discovered that three years of German had equipped me with a valuable skill. Then I saw St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which was gorgeous. Getting lost isn’t nearly as bad as people fear (although, I do have examples of how things can get depressing fast when you’re lost). Getting lost gives you an opportunity to step out of the habit of habit: of needing to be comfortable with your surroundings, to always plan ahead, to never not know for sure what you need to do next. It’s an opportunity to slip out of time and experience something new.
Well, its over. I am “home,” in Canada, in Calgary- the land of oil, cowboy hats, oversized trucks, and a general feeling of commercialism. But, it is “home” for right now, right? I’ve got my job, my family, my friends, and my plans. Big plans. Plans to settle down after this great last hurrah across Europe- I mean camping in Europe for 2 months, that’s a right of passage, right? So I’ve crossed, here on the other side, it must mean I am ready to be an adult, right? So I go ahead with my plans, see the apartments, fill out the applications, return to work, even go to IKEA (I’ve NEVER done that before) and pick out cute throw pillows. I guess I’m excited. I guess this is what I want to do. Then a call comes in, the apartment falls through- you’ve got to have some serious assets in the bank in order to convince a landlord here in the “city of opportunity” that you would be a good tenant. I don’t make enough money to rent an apartment in this city. Which is bizarre to me, because my father supported a family of 5 back in Nova Scotia on my salary. Its all relative isn’t it? So maybe I overreact, maybe I do what’s right for me. Maybe travelling across Europe for these past 2 months did teach me something: that my life, is my life! Maybe I did turn 30 this year, but its not over yet! Maybe this adventure wasn’t a right of passage into a “settled” life of fulltime work, and RRSPs, and maybe an annual vacation. Maybe it was a right of passage to a whole new way of looking at my life! Just as the world gets a little bigger when you travel, maybe the parameters of my life also expand- maybe my dreams just got a bit bigger! So I throw the apartment listings section of the paper in the trash, un-bookmark IKEA on my browser, and decide that I do not need to let society tell me what my life needs to look like. Bon Voyage friends!