Monday, February 28, 2011

February 28, 2011

It is eight in the morning on the last day of February.

The sky is clear and the harbour is calm.

It is minus twelve outside but there’s wood in the stove.

The sun is getting higher and warming the house.

The girls have got over their flu and Kelly’s tulips are opening.

There’s still snow for skiing.

But the flower garden kilim gives a nice hint of seasons that could be just around the corner.  Tomorrow a new month marches in.

Friday, February 11, 2011

February 11, 2011

I came back from the Pockwock Lake trails in Mount Uniacke and planned to write a post on the joys of cross country skiing, even when you’re out there skiing alone.  The words and images were in my head as I skied and also as I drove home listening to K.D.Lang, lulled perhaps by my own endorphens.  When I got here, I brought my gear in, cleared the skiff of new snow off the walkway and entrance, made a small sandwich, poured a shot of Jameson’s over a single ice cube, put on a dry t-shirt, fired up the computer, and turned on the TV.

When I left this morning for Uniacke, the Friday midday prayers were finished in Egypt, and protestors were reported to be heading for the Presidential Palace and the State TV building, as well as filling any space that was left in Tahrir Square.  I knew that the Palace was surrounded by the Presidential Guard and that the military had asked the demonstrators to go home.  And I had seen the coverage of the speeches of the two corrupt old henchmen, Mubarak and Suleiman (this one a shameful bearer of the great Sultan Suleyman’s name), as they made their speeches in a desperate attempt to hang onto power, and I saw the anger and disgust of the protesters when they heard what was being said.

As I drove out to Uniacke to see my old colleagues at the school and check out the last of the students who might still remember me, I worried what the military might do today.  Would they, if ordered to, attempt to dispel the demonstrators by force?  And if they didn’t, what might happen then?  I couldn’t imagine Mubarak and Suleiman, who had seemed so out of touch with the demonstrators and why they were there, actually coming to their senses.  And I feared for the people of Egypt who had risked so much to be there and to stay there.

On the TV I saw Robert Gibbs saying good-bye to the White House press corps as he prepared (I guess) to go and do something else.  And when the computer came up, Al Jazeera was very slow loading, so it was the CBC site that told me Mubarak had stepped down.  He had stepped down!  I was elated!  He was hiding out in Sharm El Sheikh.  The thirty years of Mubarak were over! 

Since there was no one here for me to hug and kiss and share my joy, I danced around a little by myself and then sipped my whiskey, ate my sandwich, and thought, Hooray!  Hooray for the brave people of Egypt who stood up, sat down, slept in the treads of the US-made tanks, sang their songs, waved their flags, and refused to leave until the change they needed started to happen.  And it did happen!

I haven’t figured out exactly why I care so much or why this seems to mean so much.  I didn’t like Egypt when we visited five years ago because it felt as if every bit of its heritage was up for sale or sold and because it seemed so corrupt and so beat, and I’m not sure that I’d like those aspects of it a whole lot more now.  But I am happy for the people of Egypt, unaccountably happy really, for what they have accomplished in the last eighteen days. 

There is something about this revolution that is profoundly emotional as well as profoundly political.  And I think that something happened there today that we may be talking about for a long time.  Here is one interesting take on it, and there are any number of other careful and thoughtful analyses to be found at the Al Jazeera site.  Check it out!

I remember walking into the staff room at Uniacke District School on September 11, 2001 and telling the teachers there that I thought the world had changed that day.  It is interesting that I was in that same staff room today, almost ten years later, another day that the world has changed.  Only this change is different and this time I have a small hope that it changed for the better.  My fingers remain crossed for Egypt, and for all of us.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Brilliance of Winter

Yesterday, the 7th of February, was a beautiful winter day here in Ferguson’s Cove and in Halifax.  The sun shone, the official temperature rose to at least +2, and (and this is the important part for us here on the eastern coast) there was no wind, none at all.  It was the brilliance of winter.

Various of our friends are heading south to places where the sun may not be brighter, but the air and the ocean will be warmer and they can wear shorts and sandals and sunscreen and forget about winter weather, like today’s snowstorm, which has been slow and wet, but persistent.  I don’t blame them for wanting a break, but there is something wonderful about the winter brilliance of a day like yesterday, and it is something you run the risk of missing if you decide you need to escape winter.

Part of what makes a brilliant winter day so special is the clear and even blue of the winter sky without a wisp of cloud or even a vapour trail, and the matching deeper blue of the harbour below it, set off by the bright whiteness of the snow.

Then there’s the way the sun delineates the branches of the bare trees and creates traces of bluish shadows in the snow.

And the sun has started to climb noticeably higher in the sky where it can melt snow and ice off some of the surfaces like our walkway.

It even provokes early thoughts of possible spring, getting this young busker out balancing and juggling in front of his sidewalk drawing next to the library.

And the same sun has enticed this person, who is sensible enough (or, like me, old enough) to keep her coat on, to at least take off her gloves and read on a park bench in the snow.

On a day like yesterday there was no need for SAD light therapy; all you needed was to walk outside and look around.  The official temperature may have been only 1.7 degrees Celsius, but the fact that the sun rose at 07:26 and didn’t set until 17:32, and that there was no wind all day, gave it the kind of warmth and brilliance that made you realize that winter, no matter how beautiful, would not stay forever and that something special, like they say, could not be far behind.

Spring will spring up soon enough, but right now I just want to get out into more of that bright white winter.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Close to Tears

It has been a rough week, one that has kept me close to tears at times, even though I have little or nothing to complain about in my own life.

On Tuesday morning I was doing my regular shift in the laptop lab at the Halifax Refugee Clinic when a young woman came upstairs to use a computer.  She was Ethiopian, a human rights activist there who had completed a semester of study here in Nova Scotia and then been told that she must report to the Security Services when she returned home.  Needless to say she has not returned, even though she has a husband and two young sons there, and is looking at making a claim for refugee status here.  The impossibility of her situation, and her sad quiet courage in the face of it, left me moved and close to tears, just as I had been for days thinking of the desperation of life in Egypt and the courage of the demonstrators there.

On Wednesday I watched coverage of the pro-Mubarak thugs riding into Tahrir Square armed with swords and sticks and attacking the peaceful protestors.  This was after I had marveled at the admirable restraint shown by those protestors, their quiet determination and persistence in the face of a stubborn and implacable foe.  As Lorraine said every time some television commentator spoke about an end to the protests, “They can’t go home.”  And they haven’t, in spite of the violence of Wednesday’s actions and the danger they were in.  Whenever I think of the lives we observed in that poor beaten down country and of the courage these protesters show, I am moved again and find myself with that familiar thickening of the throat as I am close to tears.

Today I had a wonderful ski with my brother and his wife through a long and beautiful trail under blue sky and bright sun on perfect snow.  After that we went to a fundraiser called Coldest Night of the Year at the Fo’c’sle Tavern in Chester where lots of local performers were playing and singing.  I was taken by a rocking rendition of Bob’s My God They Killed Him, a young girl soulfully singing Summertime and Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone, some nice blues riffs, and good beer and pub snacks. 

The place was packed, and I watched a couple come in, she slight and covered with a head scarf, he tall and solid, both possibly Egyptian.  They were different from everyone else in the crowd as they stood watching and listening, and I wondered what meaning they made of our rock and blues and folk nostalgia.  Then the choral group that had been singing old sentimental favourites closed their segment with Hymn to Freedom (you can hear Oscar Peterson play it here, and Dione Taylor sing it here – listen to these and you too will be close to tears). 

The conductor pointed out that it was in honour of African Heritage Month, and I thought about Africa.  I thought of its northern edges with their quiet and determined revolutions, its Ethiopia where the ruling party gained 99.6% in a recent “election” and secret police can detain or disappear people they don’t care for, and the Diaspora that uprooted so many of its people but ended up enriching the lives of us non-Africans so hugely, and once again I found myself close to tears. 

I have no answers to any of this, and I know that tears are not enough, but I can pay attention and help where I can, and I can hope for a better week and a better world.