Friday, January 29, 2010

Real Canadians

There are many cultural and national groups in Canada that are 'hyphenated' Canadians, Chinese-Canadians, Somali-Canadians, Afghan-Canadians, etc... I have no problem with them self-identifying as such, in recognition of their heritage, ancestry, etc...

The issue I take is with the rest of us 'un-hyphenated' Canadians turning around and calling ourselves 'real' Canadians, implying that the 'hyphenated' Canadians are somehow less Canadian or illegitimate in some way. There are NO real Canadians, unless we're going to talk about the First Nations groups and even then, in that context 'Canadian' implies a transplanted, colonial entity that stripped the First Nations of their land and their identity, forcing them to conform to 'Canada' as a European conceived nation-state.

There's a Wyclef (Haitian-American rapper) song that carries the line, "Your grandfather was an immigrant too" and that speaks to the heart of the matter - Canadians are an amalgamation of various immigrants joining in one place. It happened over time so perhaps some people feel that time somehow legitimizes them as 'authentic' Canadians but some of the first Canadians were not the white, Euro settlers who we imagine as 'real' Canadians, from the beginning there was a multiplicity of cultures and races in Canada - despite many of these early stories being erased from our national narrative or consciousness.

While many people would not come out and explicitly say that they are 'authentic' Canadians (though some do), implying that there are 'un-authentic' Canadians, this mentality is prevalent in many aspects of Canadian life, from the living rooms across the country, to the way government acts on behalf of its citizens. Recently there have been a couple of stories that illustrate this. Recently a Toronto woman was stranded in Kenya. The Canadian government not only did not offer assistance but aided in naming her an imposter (despite her holding a Canadian passport) and aided the Kenyan officials in imprisoning her, stripping her of her rights as a Canadian abroad. Oh yeah, she was a Kenyan-Canadian with a son in Toronto waiting for her. But she was not 'authentic' enough for Canada to bother helping.

Recently, a much more sticky issue has arisen with the imprisonment of Omar Khadr in Guantanamo Bay. Many have pressed the Canadian government to repatriate him (bring him back to Canada to be tried) rather than let him sit/rot/be tortured by the Americans. Just today the top courts in Canada ruled that, despite blatant human rights violations by the Canadian government, Khadr does not have to be brought back to Canada. Public opinion has been split, with many arguing that he is a terrorist who should have to rot, that he is not Canadian enough to have rights that would be assumed if it were a 'real' Canadian. He was 'only' born here, he lived in Afghanistan where he was arrested, etc...

If we believe in Canada as a political entity, as a country where each individual is given equal rights, there are no 'half-Canadians' or 'sorta, maybe Canadians'. There are those who hold passports and are 'legal' Canadians and those who aren't.

But he doesn't watch the Maple Leafs every Saturday night on CBC, he doesn't pay his taxes, he doesn't represent 'Canadian ideals', he doesn't speak English, he's not REAL. What a bunch of crap. If Khadr was white it wouldn't matter. If a white Canadian was stranded in Kenya he wouldn't be thrown in jail at the request of the Canadian government.

Another fine example of the racial disparity here in Canada and who is defined as a 'real' Canadian: I have a friend who is British. When he crossed the US/Canada border he was routinely hassled about his visa, British passport, etc... upon re-entry into Canada. He now has a Canadian passport and is accepted, he sails through the border like I do. My thesis supervisor is an internationally respected Kenyan scholar who has been a Canadian citizen for years. She tells me that without fail she is still hassled at the border. It is much harder to believe that, despite her passport, she is a 'real' Canadian.

I am a third-generation Canadian and you know what, both my grandfather's "were immigrants too" (and my grandmothers too!). I am still in the range to be classified as Dutch-Canadian but I don't identify that way. By identifying as Canadian I recognize that I am implicated in a history of genocide, state-sponsored racisms, and colonial endeavors in the past and today. And yet I believe that Canada can be more, a place where everyone can belong and where everyone at least has equal rights under the law (would it be too much to ask for more?)

Often it's too easy to blame the Government (capital G intentional) without realizing that the government represents us, its constituents. The government can't pursue racist agendas without the support of its populace. And in Canada today, it is still okay to separate the 'real' Canadians from the others.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sign Me Up

I can fully admit that when Nolana first discussed teaching Daija baby sign language I was quite skeptical and dismissed it. But Nolana was determined and in the past little while Daija has been learning signs at a rapid pace.

I can now also admit that it has been a really good thing. It has eased some of her frustration in being unable to communicate to us what she wants.

Here's a recent video of some of the signs she knows, though for some reason cat seems to evade her at this point! It's neat to see her learn and get excited to be able to communicate, she's so proud of herself sometimes!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I wanted to title this post: How a Cigar and a Fine Single Malt Scotch can Bring You to Prayer, but as you can see that's a little lengthy.

My father-in-law was recently in Cuba and gifted me a cigar that wasn't going to get any fresher and with no looming celebrations in the future and the days not getting any warmer I decided to celebrate the fine occasion of having a cigar.

I bundled up (it's only zero outside, so it's warm compared to the rest of Canada!), poured a drink and sat outside in the dark, smoking a fine Monte Cristo. I'm not a regular smoker but on occasion I enjoy a well-made cigar and this occasion made me think of the other times I've had the pleasure of enjoying one (it was rather contemplative by myself!)

The time the reverend (my Dad) surprised the socks off of me by bringing around cigars to smoke with him and my brother in celebration of Daija's birth. With a friend on our balcony on a low-key New Year's Eve in Ethiopia. On boy's/poker nights with good friends in Victoria. In the middle of the bush while working for Parks Canada.

And then I realized how blessed I am for the moments I've had, the experiences past and the possibilities present and future. I realized how blessed I was for the family that was sleeping soundly inside the house as well as the family that raised me, for the schooling opportunities and the chance to pursue something that challenges me and excites me, for the house, the friends, the cigar... and on.

It was much needed after a day with Daija when she was particularly whiny and I was particularly impatient - it was just one of those rough days of parenthood when you can't wait to put them down for the night. The days when you're not very appreciative of the blessings you have.

I remembered how I love my wife and need to remember to tell her how much I do. And it led to the parallel connection with how I need to remember to thank God for the blessings he has bestowed. Too often I am cynical and lacking grace when it is needed.

All of this brought on by a darkened yard, a random snowflake falling, a cigar, a scotch, and very cold hands. I am going to make sure I go in and kiss my baby again before I go to bed, tell her how much I love her, and then crawl in beside the woman I love.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Link It, or it never happened...

A collection of various links and stories. From me to you. Enjoy.

The biggest news in Toronto: A Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) worker (he takes subway fares from people) is caught napping on the job. Why is it such a sensation? It's another straw on the fire as people are fed up with the horrible service, rude employees, and fare increases. Most of the ire is directed at the union whose job it is to protect the rude employees who make as much as Registered Nurses or other similarly skilled workers.

Official responses to the story: TTC promises an investigation, the union's only response is to blame the photo taker for not trying to wake their sleeping employee, and said employee actually says on the record, "God bless the Union." Toronto public respond by snapping more pictures of sleeping employees and employees watching videos in the booth. If I had a union who protected me from being fired I might sleep on the job and be rude as well. I for one have personally experienced the outlandish rudeness of said employees though have yet to see a sleeping one - though I often see them doing crosswords or reading the newspaper. Yet another reason that slowly pushes me from pro-union to anti-union...

Africa = AIDS. According to Twitter, it's true!

Remember a while back when I wrote piece on using images of Starving Children in Africa? What, you don't? Well, it seems to be the most viewed page on my blog. I also found a chap who works in Ethiopia that seems to agree with me and wrote a great post on Poverty Porn, check it out.

Want to know more about Haiti's history? Did you know it was the first independent nation in Latin America and the first black-led republic in the world? Check out these two books which I am in the process of reading, The Black Jacobins by CLR James and Avengers of the New World by Laurent Dubois.

I've been following a great blog by a photographer in Liberia. Great photos to check out at Scarlett Lion.

Big news today: Ethiopian Airlines jet goes down off of Lebanon. Despite this, they remain one of the best, safest, most reliable airline on the continent - I would gladly fly them again.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


There's a lot to be said for Moms. We all have one to start with. And they do a lot of work for second thing. This I am finding to be true.

Nolana has resumed work and while it will be a part-time position so that we can juggle me doing my studies as well, her orientation is full-time.... for four weeks. So that means I am at home with the little pipsqueak, playing a little bit of Mom. I'm not nearly as proficient as the real Mom.

It's been a real experience so far (2 weeks in). I change diapers, I wash diapers (we do cloth), I shop for groceries, I shop for laundry soap, I use that laundry soap to wash more diapers, I make meals and most importantly - I try to stay sane.

Sometimes it's a real emotional roller coaster. We've had some really great times where I'm excited to be around her and get the chance to see the learning take place, to be the one who gets to report the 'firsts'. Sometimes she's laughing and giggling and playing games, giving me kisses and warming my heart. And then sometimes she wakes up at 5:30 in the morning and screams, or refuses to eat what I'm offering or demands her way all day.

I have much more respect for Moms who stay home and battle that day in and day out and still manage to come out on the other side with grace and sanity. It's no easy task.

We've had some great times and now she's a little more like her Daddy than she was before...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Is Tourism Good for Developing Countries?

I've had this on my mind for some time now and it often seems to pop up in classes, readings, books, etc... Is tourism good for 'developing' countries? I have a lot of thoughts on the issue but I will try and keep them somewhat concise and try to focus on some solid examples.

Just today this article graced the front pages of, Haiti Cruise Draws Ire, Support. A cruise company has built a small enclave in Haiti that it has used for some time now, essentially just a beach and a tourist 'experience' for those who want to say they've been to Haiti - a beach, hair-braiding, a straw market. Now with the recent earthquake (you've heard of this, yes?) people are questioning whether or not it is okay to holiday in Haiti while people are dying on the other side of the island.

NOW they're questioning it? Seriously?

Beyond that, the article goes on to quote from an organization called Sustainable Travel International, an organization I am guessing created to prop up the travel industry on the prickly ethical questions it might face. STI (interesting acronym to choose...) states what has been stated since the beginning of time - tourism brings money into the country which means it is good for the country.

Except that study after study shows this to be false: Western based corporations take the largest cut ("Welcome to Puerta Vallarta, Thank you for flying Northwest airlines", "We hope you enjoyed your stay at the Hilton..." ), nations take very little revenue and even less of that "trickles down" to the "common person". You say tourism gives people jobs, I say tourism exploits the neediest, forcing them into positions of servitude and exploitation.

The most succinct quote I have come across to date is from Carol Davies' book Black women, writing and identity:Migration of the subject. It states:

"So, if we are clear that tourism never really brings economic prosperity, the multinational corporations who own the industries take their made-money away, the tourist installations often destroy the environment and displace many people, the people are denied some of the most beautiful areas of their country because of tourism, that the local people are constructed perpetually in positions of service, then the link between tourism and invasion is not far fetched..."

I want Sustainable Travel International to tell me exactly how sailing with this cruise company is going to help those stuck under rubble, needing water right now, or needing medical attention.

I struggle with this; I desire a warm beach, daiquiris all day and a waterfront bungalow as much as the next person and yet I know that such 'high-end' tourism is neither sustainable for the host country nor equitable. It feeds our Western need for consumption and luxury at the cost of others.

The article ends with a person who they interviewed deciding to go on the cruise anyways, justified by the fact that it will help Haiti in the end and with the disclaimer that she "won't enjoy that day in Haiti", as if somehow this absolves her from the guilt she's obviously feeling.

I feel like this is the answer we/I usually take: find a convenient out and hold onto it in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, find a way to make that vacation seem okay - "I need this break", "I give lots of money to charities already", "It helps the country I'm visiting", etc...

We can and should question if it is right to vacation in places like Haiti after such a disaster but we should also be questioning if we should be vacationing in places like Haiti to start with. After all, if it is dying people you are worried about, people die in Haiti everyday from things like disease and malnutrition.

Carol Davies, in the book I quoted earlier, talks about the difference between luxury tourism and finding ways to make "meaningful encounters". She doesn't seem to be against learning about new cultures, meeting new people or visiting new places - she seems to be more against taking from new places, disadvantaging new places, exploiting new places, and making servants of new people. There's obviously a fine line sometimes between these two sides, many a "meaningful encounter" has been exploitation under the guise of a humanitarian intervention or cross-cultural exchange.

This is something that directly affects me and something that at times I've ignored. I enjoy traveling and the onus is on me to find ways to make meaningful encounters when I travel rather than feeding my own need to consume at the expense of others. I also battle my inner self who just wants to forget that people are suffering and sit on a beach, under an umbrella by the pool side bar. There's no quick and easy answer to this. Sometimes, struggle is the beginning and we need to be content that we're on the journey. Still, I don't see myself booking any vacations to Mexico/Hawaii/Dominican/Thailand/Haiti anytime soon....

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Don't they have tigers in Angola?

You may (or may not have) heard but there was a recent attack in Angola that left a number of members of the Togolese national football team dead. I won't ask you where Togo is.

Normally this might be a mere footnote in the Western news cycle but this year is also the World Cup in South Africa which has led to nations wondering if their teams will be safe in South Africa.

As the head soccer honcho in South Africa states: "If there is a war in Kosovo and a World Cup in Germany, no one asks if the World Cup can go on in Germany, everyone understands the war in Kosovo is a war in Kosovo."

Angola is hundreds of miles from South Africa much like Kosovo is hundreds of miles from Germany. Yet another example of how Africa is lumped together as a lawless, violent place that everyone fears.

Coming soon: The World Cup in the land of Nelson Mandela...

Winter Wonder

After an extremely mild November and December that yielded a total of 3cm of snow over the two months, January finally brought some real snow (though the forecast calls for rain today so we might not have the snow much longer...). I've been anxious to take Daija out in the snow, thinking she would love it.

So one afternoon that Nolana and I were both home we bundled her up and took her out to the small 'parkette' behind our house. She wasn't so sure about being bundled up and put in the sled but as soon as I started pulling her, her eyes lit up and she loved it!

I actually kind of like the snow. It's been a long time since I've had any real snow in winter and it reminds me of all those winters growing up on the Prairies and the tons of snow we had.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Joker meets Jamberry

My little Joker:

My Baby likes berries.

"Buried in berries
What a jam jamboree!"
- from Jamberry, one of her little books

Monday, January 4, 2010

Top 10 of the past 10: Beer

I had originally planned on doing a few more of these lists, especially since I figured I would have some time over the holidays but after finishing my papers I found I had little inspiration to waste time! I had a couple lists written down beforehand waiting to post so there are a few more for all of your eager ears. Then it will be back to regularly scheduled programming - and with school officially starting back up today (I know! How was the break that short?) I'm sure I'll have need for a blog when I have assignments due....

Without further adieu - Top 10 Beers I've had in the past 10 years (click on the links to find out more!)

1. Deschutes Brewing - The Abyss (Russian Imperial Stout) - Released once a year from Oregon, this big stout has lots of "roasty" malt, vanilla notes from barrel aging, milk chocolate, molasses, and hints of licorice. Hands down the best I had.

2. Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery - Masala Mama (India Pale Ale) - Stopped in Minneapolis specifically for this beer when I was hauling our belongings cross-country. Smells like tropical and citrus fruits, lots of hops makes this bitter, yet a sweet caramel malt body gives balance. Like a glass of grapefruit juice - bitter and quenching. Only on tap in Minneapolis so you have to get it there!

3. Founders Brewing - Canadian Breakfast Stout (RIS) - A one-time brew (they just announced that they'll be doing a 2nd run) that I stopped for in Grand Rapids, MI when moving. Huge, thick imperial stout aged in maple syrup barrels makes this a true dessert beer. Sweet maple notes mix with vanilla and chocolate, enough roast from the malts and a hint of oatmeal and coffee to balance. Tastes like maple oatmeal with a cup of coffee - breakfast!

4. Brasserie Dieu de Ciel - L' Aphrodisiaque (Stout) - When we went to Montreal this summer Nolana let me take an afternoon off to visit this, the best Brewpub in Canada! This one is their stout made with vanilla beans and cacao. A rich, decadent dessert beer, rich chocolate and vanilla - I've had it in the bottles too and it doesn't compare to how great it was on tap.

5. Brasserie Dieu de Ciel - Peche Mortel (RIS) - Number 4 and number 5 on the list - it was a good afternoon! This is their coffee stout, tastes like someone threw a couple shots of high end espresso into your beer! If you don't like coffee, you won't like this beer. I happen to love coffee and love this beer. Highest rated beer in Canada.

6. Bear Republic Brewing - Hop Rod Rye (IPA) - A traditional citrusy IPA from California but, whereas most beer is brewed with barley, this one adds some rye to the mix and gives it a nice spicy, earthy backdrop. Very tasty!

7. Founders Brewing - Kentucky Breakfast Stout (RIS) - Same beer as the one aged in maple syrup except this one is aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels which makes it taste like bourbon (obviously), vanilla, as well as giving it a drier, earthy finish.

8. Brooklyn Brewing - Local 1 (Saison) - Spicy, dry Belgian styled beer. Lots of lemon, peppery, fruity, carbonation almost like a champagne. So satiating and perfect for summer.

9. New Glarus Brewing - Raspberry Tart (Fruit Beer) - Only made and sold in Wisconsin, this equally tart and sweet fruit beer is made with over a pound of fresh raspberries per bottle. It's almost like drinking raspberry lemonade - even Nolana loved it!

10. Moylan's Brewery - Hopsickle Imperial IPA (Double IPA) - If you think an IPA is bitter, try this one! Called a triple IPA by the brewer this is loaded with hops which makes this probably the most bitter beer I've ever had, feels like it's stripping your tongue clean of your taste buds - those Californians know how to do hops! Wickedly good.