The proud Canadian military

Pride soldiersI remember being very impressed last year when I saw a booth from the Canadian Armed Forces on Church Street during Pride celebrations. Where I come from, the military is the last place one would find support for gay rights. This year the Armed Forces took it one step further and allowed its members to march in uniform during the parade. The objective was to show that the Canadian Armed Forces was an equal-opportunities employer, where people can be “proud of who they are” as well as what they do. Good for them.

More info here.

I recommend reading the comments on the CBC website, linked above. A couple rednecks came out of the woodworks to share their disgust and it was interesting to see so many people – gay and straight; many members of the Armed Forces – defend the military’s effort to show their inclusiveness. One reader commented: “Makes me proud to be Canadian – how many other countries in the world are mature enough to accept this, and on top of that have so many people, both homosexual and heterosexual, posting positive reactions to it?”

¡Viva España!

I missed the parade this afternoon to check out the final of the Euro Cup; I simply could not miss it! I really wanted Spain to win, not only because it is Spain but because I really like the kind of football (aka soccer) they play and I really didn’t want a defensive team to win. They played really well the whole tournament, scoring 11 goals in 5 matches with only 3 goals against. Plus, Spain hadn’t won anything for decades and needed a bit of a boost in confidence.

And they got it! Germany 0 x 1 Spain in a match filled with opportunities for Spain and really tense towards the end (as any final should be). Enhorabuena España!!! As the Sport newspaper says, the “buen fútbol” won.

Canadian identity

A recent poll conducted across the country had Pierre Trudeau, Niagara Falls, Canada Day, and the maple leaf as the most defining Canadian icons. I was happy to see the results as I really admire Trudeau as one of the last great political visionaries. He was smart, coherent, and spoke his mind clearly. This interview in the midst of the October Crisis is an example:

His first resignation:

Pride Weekend and Canada Day

Pride 2007The weekend promises to be quite full of activities to choose from. It’s Pride celebrations in our neighbourhood all weekend, which, as I said before, is an occasion I really enjoy. Sunday is the final for the European Cup (Spain vs Germany!) and then on Tuesday is Canada Day, and event marked by fireworks and many festivities by the waterfront. On top of all of that, I need to do at least five hours of database entry at some point between Saturday and Sunday. Busy times indeed.

Some reasons to like Pride.

At the library

It’s a quiet morning at the library, not many people around, and a woman working at the other side of the room approaches me looking rather worried:

WW – “Do you hear a strange sound?”

Alex, looking slightly embarrassed – “Um, that’s me… I have the hiccups, sorry …” [they are REALLY loud and uncontrollable]

The good news is that the embarrassment cured the hiccups ;)

Back to Toronto

It’s been so busy since we got back to Toronto that I haven’t had time to post anything and there’s so much I want to talk about – coming back home, the new EU measures against illegal immigration, our new cleansing diet, work… – that I haven’t had the courage to sit down and just do it.

I’m impatient to get started on work so I can get a chapter out of the way but we have spent the past few days running errands, cleaning, socializing… But here’s a list of my objectives for the next few months:

  1. get the GHS newsletter out
  2. get in shape
  3. eat better (going through a one-month cleansing diet at the moment, should help)
  4. get the website for the Devil’s conference up
  5. write a chapter or two
  6. finish my Iter hours (I still got MANY to do!)

I’ve been working on items 1-4. So far, I have gone to the gym on Friday, Sunday, Monday, and twice today (half an hour run/walk this morning and 1 1/2 killer hour of Yoga this afternoon). I’ve also been walking and cycling around quite a bit. Tomorrow I need to go to the library early to work on item 6. Will try to get to item 4 & 5 in the afternoon. B-U-S-Y!

Busy day in Madrid

After four weeks in Spain, we began our journey home early wednesday morning (June 18th) when we left the house at 7 AM to catch the 8:30 AVE to Madrid. The plan was to stay overnight in Madrid and catch the new Air Canada flight to Toronto. Although we don’t know Madrid very well – the weather prevented us from really enjoying the place last time we were there – we had quite the day meeting friends.
We arrived at 11:15 in Madrid and after checking in at our hotel, we went off exploring. The weather was much nicer than in our previous visit (a sunny 20 C) and we wandered the narrow streets of the Huertas (aka Barrio de las Letras) and the Plaza Mayor. For lunch, we took advantage of the tradition in this part of Spain of the tapeo – which basically consists of ordering a drink to get a free tapa at local bars and cervecerias. Luckily, in Madrid one can get a free tapa by ordering a very small glass of beer (a caña), smaller than a half pint. Here are some random pictures of our wanderings:

Click here for slideshow

After a short nap, we went off to Atocha station to meet a friend from the blogosphere – Erin, the wandering woman. I was so happy to be able to meet her in Spain, a place we both like so much. Erin is a true free spirit and it was so easy to wile away the afternoon in a shady spot of Plaza Santa Ana, hearing about her exciting plans for the future and her experiences on the camino de Santiago.

After accompanying Erin back to the train station, we visited the memorial for the victims of the 2004 Madrid bombings. Hundreds died when bombs were simultaneously detonated in commuter trains arriving at Atocha station and last year a memorial was inaugurated to remember the victims. It is quite a moving site. You can see a picture of it in the slideshow above.

After resting a bit at the hotel, we met Mireia, a friend from Barcelona who is in Madrid on business, her colleague Lydia, and Yaniré, a Chilean we met in Barcelona who has since moved to Madrid after marrying her long-time madrileño boyfriend. It was great seeing Yaniré again after over a year. We had tapas and beer at a local bar until past 1 AM and it was a great end to our month in Spain. We have no idea when we will be back since I have decided not to make any travel plans until I’m finished my dissertation. But I’m finally mentally ready to get it over with so hopefully I can finish within the next 12 months.

Tossa-Lloret

We had quite the eventful weekend. We gad been invited to a party on Saturday evening at Lloret de Mar, a town about one hour north of Barcelona, at the Costa Brava. While I was checking out the schedule for the bus to Lloret, I realized that 20 mins after Lloret was the town of Tossa de Mar, a place I had heard much about and which I had always wanted to visit. So I convinced Alan that we should leave Barcelona early in the morning, visit Tossa and then go back to Lloret to meet our friends later. He promptly agreed and you can read the rest of the story on his blog.

Tossa

The importance of education

I feel guilty for having abandoned the blog in the past few days, but it’s been a whirlwind of work, meetings with friends, weekend trips, catching up, that I have barely any time to even check email. So I’m sorry if you have left a message that has remained unacknowledged.

But that’s not why I’m writing today. I just wanted to share with all of you the story of Greg Mortenson and his work to educate children, particularly girls, in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Greg was a rock climber who, in 1992, after nearly dying in a failed attempt to climb K2, the world’s toughest summit, wandered into a remote village on his way down from the mountain, which he had hoped to conquer in honour of his sister Christa, who had recently passed away. Mortenson had taken the wrong path while following his guide and ended up on the village of Korphe by mistake. The villagers were quite surprised as no foreigner had ever been there before and Mortenson was received by the village chief, who took him to his house and offered him shelter. Comforted by their hospitality, he ended up spending weeks there recovering his strength and slowly doing what he could to pay back his hosts. Trained as a trauma nurse, he used his expedition medical kit to treat the local villagers, who lived one-week by foot from the closest doctor. He soon discovered that the village had no school and before he left, he promised Haji Ali, the chief, that he would come back to build him a school. After an extraordinary journey, Greg Mortenson has built over 60 primary schools – especially for girls – in the land that gave birth to the Taliban. He learned to speak Urdu, Balti, and other local languages and is respected throughout the region for the work he does to empower the local people and get them out of poverty. In one case, a village desperately needed a health care worker so Greg’s foundation sent a local young woman, Aziza Hussain, to be trained in a medical clinic at the closest larger city. I copy here the passage from the book:

With the nearest medical facility two days’ drive down often impassible jeep tracks, illness in Zuudkhan could quickly turn to crisis. In the year before Aziza took charge of her village’s health, three women had died during the delivery of their children. “Also, many people died from the diarrhea,” Aziza says. “After I got training and Dr. Greg provided the medicines, we were able to control there things.

“After five years, with good water from the new pipes, and teaching the people how to clean their children, and use clean food, not a single person had died here from there problems. It’s my great interest to continue to develop myself in this field,” Aziza says. “And pass on my training to other women. Now that we have made such progress, not a single person in this area believes women should not be educated.”

As Stephen Lewis has defended so strongly in his Race Against Time, educating women is the surest way to fight poverty and disease. And today, it is also the best way to fight terrorism and violence. In his book, Greg Mortenson talks extensively about Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and how they are able to recruit followers in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. They build thousands of schools, devoted to teaching their particular version of extremism, in remote impoverished villages failed by the public system. War becomes the only occupation they can aspire to and the only thing to give their lives any meaning. The best and the brightest are then sent to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where they are indoctrinated further before sending them back home, where they are encouraged to take four wives and breed like rabbits, thinking “twenty, forty, sixty years ahead to a time when their armies of extremism will have the numbers to swarm over Pakistan and the rest of the Islamic world.”

As Ahmed Rashid, author of the best-selling book Taliban, says, we need many more of the schools that Greg Mortenson is building in that area of the world. I could go on about this for hours, so I’ll just leave you with a link to Mortenson’s site and an interview below. If you can, buy the book Three Cups of Tea, it’s definitely worth a read.