Canada is a good place to be.

I was in downtown Ottawa today for a haircut. That took 10 minutes, so I went for a walk down Bank Street in the sweltering heat. Immediately, I came across a new Asian restaurant (202 Bank St.) that screamed BUBBLE TEA in two-foot high letters. To my delight, they served bento- a Japanese box lunch. As I sat by the wide-open double doors and people-watched, I picked up one treasure after another with my chopsticks: tempura shrimp, yam and bean; candied chicken satay; california rolls; gyoza; chicken teriyaki with rice. It came with a green salad and miso soup. Took me back to Japan- yum. And only $10.99.

I was unable to eat it all so I gave the leftovers to some pigeons in a small square. A gull came and harassed them, but they got a bit. One male pigeon was all fluffed up- larger than the rest- and uninterested in food. He was hounding a pretty female who kept 2 steps ahead of him at all times.

A smelly man, quite drunk at 1 p.m., stopped and watched with me. “The gulls are bullies,” I said. “Everyone’s gotta eat,” he answered.

A young Chinese man stopped me for directions to Rideau Street. We chatted and I learned he was from Shanghai and would study at the University of Ottawa. Today was his first day in Canada, so I walked with him down Sparks to the Rideau Centre where he would find the monthly bus pass he wanted. That made me happy…and hot, so I slipped into the Lord Elgin Hotel for some air conditioning.

The hotel is quite posh, but I thought that since I was wearing a fedora and the holes in my cut-off shorts were few, that I could fit in. I chose a comfy couch by the window of the lobby and read a newspaper someone had left behind. The bathroom is the cleanest that I know of downtown, one George Costanza would approve of.

Once refreshed, I hit Elgin Street and soon crouched beside an ancient black man sitting on a step playing the harmonica. Summertime blues. A little further down the street, at the Human Rights Monument, I came upon a rally for peace. The flags were Palestinian and as I got closer I read the signs: “Stop killing our children!” “Violence must end.”

I’ve known many Palestinians over the years, and I wandered through the crowd looking for Students I Have Known. No familiar faces, but familiar music, familiar black and white scarves, familiar troubled expressions. I wasn’t the only white Canadian there; I settled on a stone and watched.

Soon four men in black coats, round furry hats, beards and ringlets by their ears came walking toward the crowd. Hasidic Jews. Without a word, they stood in the middle of the crowd and unfurled their signs: “Stop the violence!” “Judaism does not condone war.”

Emotion caught in my throat as a throng of Palestinians gathered in front of the Jewish men to read their signs. Eyes comprehending; eyes meeting and touching. I had no camera, so my mind took the shot- a moment to remember.

I walked away then, but all the way back home I felt grateful to be living in Canada. And so grateful for all the people who have made it here, no matter why they came. This is a good place to be.

Anne's summer reading

summer reading

 

Multicultural Fashion Show

At a school celebration, students posed proudly in their traditional clothing.

Morocco

Morocco

 

Cambodia

Cambodia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salwar kameez- India

Salwar kameez- India

 

 

 

Sari- India

Sari- India

 

 

 

Habesha dress- Ethiopia

Habesha dress- Ethiopia

 

Habesha dress- Ethiopia

Habesha dress- Ethiopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mother and daughter- Cameroon

mother and daughter- Cameroon

 

 

Guntiino dress- Somalia

Guntiino dress- Somalia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Men wearing the futa- Somalia

Men wearing the futa- Somalia

 

 

 

 

 

 

modern Myanmar

modern Myanmar

 

Iraq. Arab-style head covering- kaffiyeb or gutra

Iraq.  Arab-style head covering- kaffiyeb or gutra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kuwaiti men's dishdasha

Kuwaiti men’s dishdasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

They told me this is a young man’s style and an old man’s style in traditional Iraq.

Tibetan style

Tibetan style

 

Tamang dress- Nepal

Tamang dress- Nepal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nepali man playing a madal

Nepali man playing a madal

dolma- vegetables stuffed with rice- Iraq

dolma- vegetables stuffed with rice- Iraq

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can’t resist one shot of the food- what a feast we had!

 

 

 

 

Stress & Silliness

The Happy British Muslims video photo credit

In The Word Not Spoken, Jess and Leigh comment on the seriousness of their Turkish neighbours. “They’re not silly.” But in a later scene, these same neighbours get silly at the park in the dark when they let their headscarves fall back and they take turns shrieking their way down a rickety slide.

Leigh comes to the conclusion that the Turkish women’s lives left little room for silliness, what with all the chores and expectations. She believes that poverty and fear put the entire neighbourhood under stress.

“Happy British Muslims” are attempting to dispel the stereotype of the Serious Muslim with the creation of a video set to “Happy” by Pharrell Willimas. It’s gone viral- have a look.

Some Muslims don’t sing and dance, just like some Christians don’t sing and dance, but most do- with heart. I teach English to adult immigrants. Every Thursday we sing: “O Canada” is their favourite, but they can belt out “Bye Bye Love” (Everly Bros), “Here Comes the Sun” (Beatles) and even “All the Same to Me” (Anya Marina). Occasionally dancing erupts in class. I think it testifies to the safety of the place.

There is a great deal of silliness in my classroom and in my school. In fact, I sometimes judge these adults to be immature and their humour incomprehensible. Other times, I eat lunch at my desk listening to the laughter & the many languages in the room.  They touch each other a great deal- Somalis, Iraqis, Bhutanese- they lean on each other to laugh and grab hands. They press food on each other and me. I don’t sit in the classroom to eat unless I can reciprocate their generosity- just like Leigh, I’ve learned that giving back is essential.

A dramatic lifting of stress: Last year, a student being abused by her husband was rescued by a neighbour who called police. (She told me that in her country no one helped her, although many knew and heard.) The student, who was over-tired, quiet and slow in the past, started smiling, calling out correct answers, acing tests…

Tom Boileau ran an experiment in Johannesburg. (Facebook April 18, 2014). He played the drums at night in a townhouse complex and rec’d complaints from neighbours knocking at the door. The following night, at the same volume, he played a tape of a woman screaming, a man yelling, sounds of hitting, banging, crashing. No one knocked on the door.

Some people come a long way for the safety of Canada. I watch the healing going on in my classroom with gratitude.

The Happy British Muslims video photo credit

“Halal Pork”

In Ottawa, a butcher opened a shop in a neighbourhood with a dense population, mostly immigrants. A small mosque was just down the street. He got regular requests for “halal” meat but when he shook his head, the people left without buying.

One day, a Muslim woman noticed a sign in his window for halal beef. She found the price to be reasonable and the beef delicious. Word spread and new customers arrived. Soon the butcher advertised “Halal Chicken” and “Halal Lamb”. For weeks, business boomed. Then one day he put up a sign that ended his good fortune: “Halal Pork”.
Do you know why?

halal

halal

___________________________
Halal foods are meat & products containing meat (includes some cheeses, marshmallows, gelatin, pharmaceuticals…) that have been blessed, that is, prayed over while the animal was killed in a humane way. The animal would not have eaten animal by-products.

Halal does not apply to fish. (Which is how the butcher might have advertised his confusion next: “Halal Fish”.) Muslims don’t eat pork. It is haram meaning “not permitted”.The fraudster had revealed that he didn’t get his meat from a halal butcher (who must use a sharp instrument at the throat of the animal, say the name of God, hang the carcass to bleed dry…and who would never touch a pig).

Some Muslims want their health-care products, creams, shoes, clothing (eg leather) to be halal as well. I know Muslims who don’t pay any attention to halal (they eat fast food burgers) and I know those who are extreme (they reject all food made by non-Muslims). In a Muslim country, all products are halal of course. Awareness becomes necessary when a Muslim moves to a non-Muslim country. This new vigilance usually just involves package-reading but can be as acute as a fear of contamination.

I know a devout man who follows many Islamic practices, yet he starts all his cooking by saying “Bismillah” meaning “Starting in the name of God”. He says that means he can use whatever meat is available- halal or not. That’s a twist many Muslims don’t agree with.

I brought a Kashmiri friend to a Christian’s home for Christmas dinner. He had decided he wouldn’t eat the turkey- he always eats halal, prays 5 times/day. It was some time before he said, “What is this brown juice? It is very good.” By then, he had already slurped back lots of gravy. I thought he’d be upset to learn the truth but he took it in stride.”If I don’t know it is haram, it isn’t a wrong thing or a bad thing. How can it be?” But he never drank gravy again.

At a school potluck (adult ESL), Middle-Eastern students grouped their halal offerings together on one table. When I directed some Muslim Africans to put their halal food there as well, a few Middle-Easterners objected. As people moved in and out of the room, dropping off food and going to morning activities elsewhere, this group repeatedly separated the African halal food from the Arabic halal food. No matter what I, the Cdn. teacher, argued, they just didn’t want the “black” food next to theirs, halal or not, they told me- it was probably dirty. I accused them of soiling the beauty of the halal concept: a ritual that clears/blesses food and gives a group a feeling of security…and in a foreign land, a feeling of community.

Ottawa Turkish Festival

Turkish traditional clothes

Turkish traditional clothes

Turkish folk dance video

The Ottawa Turkish Festival is large, yet it maintains the sense of community trust that I remember from living in Turkey The coffee was served in real Turkish coffee cups with saucers, the assumption being that everyone would return the valuable dishes when their treat was finished. The children wandered free of their adults and played wildly in the balloon tent. Some children manned a booth on their own, giving out festival souvenirs. One thing I noticed that was different from where I lived in Turkey- the men and women mingled freely; there were no distinct gender groups and families sat together.

I made a beeline for the food:  gozleme and borek (spinach and feta), dolma (rice and salce rolled in grape leaves), kofte patties, mantu (handmade pasta with beef, yogurt sauce and a spicy oil). I ate ’til I was stuffed, then went back for more tea and some baklava.

Entertainment was spectacular, as always. Enjoy the videos here!

Turkish folk dance

Sitar and spoons

I spoke to many people and despaired that my Turkish has further dwindled. In line waiting for barbeque kofte, a man with a strong French accent asked me in an undertone, why the women cover their heads. “Is it culture or religion?” he asked me, the white Christian, when he was surrounded by Muslims.

When Turkey filled my mouth, ears and eyes, and the last entertainer started singing songs from the western world, I turned toward home. As I walked away I could hear her song, one of Sarah McLachlan’s- “In the arms of the angels, may you find some comfort here” and I suddenly wept, without knowing I would, for my Bey, even though I felt him close by.

Katmandu’s Old Circus

child acrobats

child acrobats

My obsession with circuses started with Toby Joins the Circus, a childhood story. I love Water for Elephants and The White Bones; I’ll read anything about elephants or circuses. I land in a new country, and one of my first questions is: Do they have a circus here?
The circus in Katmandu was open every day- a permanent set-up as far as I knew. I walked there with a cotton mask covering my nose and mouth because the smog I’d been inhaling for weeks was affecting my lungs. After a long wait, the audience was allowed in. We were about 30 in total- I was the only white person. circus in Katmandu
I’d been traveling through India and then Nepal for months, so I was accustomed to the shamble and poverty. Still, the large rips and holes in the circus tent surprised me. The canvas was a rag held up by poles, shafts of sunlight pouring through the holes. There seemed to be more holes than canvas and I wondered: Why bother putting it up? We sat on wooden benches surrounding a circle of packed earth, sweating in the humid heat even at 10 a.m.
My heart sank as the clowns and tricksters entered the single ring. Most of the performers were children: wily strong children who didn’t smile much. They piled themselves in every possible combination and contortion on bicycles, horses and poles. They swung from fragile-looking bars attached to the wires above them, and tumbled gracefully into flips and leaps. The animals were clearly not pets; they were wild, lean, heavily chained. The big cat show was frightening, mostly because I didn’t trust the strength of the rusty locks and feeble cages.elephant on tricycle
It’s always the same debate with me- is it better to boycott attractions that treat animals and, in this case, children, poorly? The Nepali circus and the Indian zoos with their tiny cement cages would not have noticed my boycott- ah, but what if all the travellers made a statement en masse, you ask? I still don’t know- I didn’t see any white tourists at the busy zoo in Jaisalmer or at the circus in Katmandu; their paying visitors were mostly Indian and Nepali.
For me, the experience is cultural. After all, in Canada, those children would have been in school. But in Katmandu, these children had work, a “roof” and food to eat. I had only to walk the streets to see hungry begging children, who were without the essentials of life.
I won’t forget one boy in particular, about 10 years old, who I noticed throwing some garbage onto one of the large piles along a narrow Katmandu street at dusk. To my astonishment, he then stood back in a runner’s starting position. Then he ran, leaped above the pile of garbage, kicking his feet out so he landed flat on his back in the centre of the garbage pile. He sank a bit, into the cans and plastic, so that he was almost out of sight. I waited but he remained there, and I realized he’d settled into bed for the night. I thought about rats.
In that environment, is it a bad thing to support the circus performers by attending? I don’t know…but whether the ticket is $30.00 or $3.00, I just can’t walk by a circus.
Under the Big Top

Flowers in the Sky: Culture and Art

Match the painting to the artist’s country:
Nepal  –  China  –  Canada  –  Congo  –  Iran  –  India

1. culture-and-art-blog-01

2. culture-and-art-blog

3. culture-and-art-blog

4. culture-and-art-blog

5. culture-and-art-blog

6. culture-and-art-blog

Painting and drawing are common activities at the Tulip Festival in Ottawa. Artists set up easels beside a giant tulip bed; some of them are quite talented. My school of 100 adult immigrants went down to see the flowers, and some of the students tried their hand at painting with watercolours. It was a hot day- we set up blankets in the shade.

I love the way they paint from their culture. I noticed that different cultures have different styles. Many Nepalese and Indian students drew colourful leaves and flowers with many petals- sometimes the flowers were in the sky- and they didn’t look like tulips at all. The Chinese often chose the thin brushes and painted with delicate strokes. The Africans almost always put roots on their flowers, and no one from any other culture did that.

Try matching the painting to the artist’s country. Check your answers in the “What have you done for love?”  blog. Do you need a hint? Number 1 is reminiscent of Persian carpet designs.