Parisian Sailing

Kids playing with sailing boats in Paris.

Last year, we spent Christmas in Barcelona and as we usually do every time we go to Europe, we passed by Paris on the way back. We tend not to visit the big tourist sites; instead, we simple wander around and do the things one does when in a place like Paris – sit in cafés and watch people. Which is pretty much what we do here in Toronto too, but nevermind. Anyway, when we were there, we came across this pond near the Louvre that seemed to be quite popular. As we came closer we realized it was filled with little sailing boats:

Little kids had long poles with which they steered the boats as they got close to the margins. They’d run around the pond following their boats, some would race other boats, it looked like they were having a huge plast.

The boats were pretty cool too. They were these large wooden boats, with colourful sails.

And it was all done by this old man who carted his boats, which he clearly took good care of, and simply let the kids play with for as long they wanted. It was a Sunday and you could see families walking around in their best Sunday clothes and coming to the pond so that the kids could have a go at sailing. Alan and I sat there for quite a while enjoying the sight of kids playing with very low tech toys and having a lot of fun, a rare sight in this part of the world.

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.

2007 in pictures…

It was fun doing this last year, so I thought I’d continue…


We watched the arrival of the Three Kings in Barcelona, walked along the beach in Barcelona, went to the calçots festival in Valls and happened upon the wonderful monastery of Poblet along the way, and discovered the little town of Arenys de Mar – more pics here.

Three Kings Barcelona beach ArenysPoblet Calçots


In February I met Moussa ag Assarid, enjoyed the Festes de Santa Eulália, a festival dedicated to children, and had lunch on top of a mountain near Vic.

Moussa Castellers de Barcelona Festes de Santa Eulalia Lunch at Vic


In March Alan and I went to Girona for a bit of a research trip, where we also had some amazing food and I became tempted to find a project that would allow me to spend a year in that amazing city

Street in Girona Tourists in Girona Old books


Last month in Barcelona – we visited friends in Mataró and otherwise simply hanged out in Barcelona

Archives Mataro View from Sara's house in Mataro Capoeira in Raval


Back in Canada after 13 months in Spain! We stayed with our friends Pearl and Al for the first two weeks and then left for Brazil to visit my family. While we were at Pearl’s, she took us to Todmorden Mills and Bufflers Park.

Yonge & Bloor Good friends Good friends 2 Todmorden Mills Bufflers Park


We moved into our new apartment and enjoyed summer in TO; I invented some cool salads and we had a blast at the Pride Parade.

Welcome basket BCE Place Kensington Salad Friends Pride Parade


We celebrated Canada Day at the harbourfront and visited Montreal, where we had to spend a few hours at the market. We also went on the first of many photo shoots with Mel and discovered Ireland Park.

Canada Day Montreal Ireland Park Toronto urban beach


A great month in Canada. We cycled quite a bit, watched the opening of the CNE, and I got into black & white photography.

Opening of CNE First b&w Bike ride - harbourfront East Chinatown Little Indi


September was back-to-school month. Super busy, no time to go out and take pictures. But it was also the month I got my piercing and Alan got his tattoo.

Piercing Tattoo


Halloween month! So of course we checked out the action at Church street and I got some good pictures

CatCat Warrior Geisha


Remembrance day and another trip to Montreal

End of fall Montreal Remembrance day


It seems all I did between November and December was mark papers and exams. But there was also a snowstorm in TO and our trip to Barcelona and Paris!

Snowstorm Barcelona Riding on bicing Kids playing in Paris Invalides

And 2008 arrived like this: