I’m writing this a week before leaving Gibsons, but by the time it reaches your eyes, I’ll already be on my way home, away from home, towards a new home. I don’t know which is which.
The last few months years have been crazy. Moving to a tiny, beautiful town in British Columbia to do this crazy, wonderful, so frustrating but so rewarding job. Getting to travel all over the country, working with some phenomenal human beings, being so inspired that so many people are willing to try to make a difference. Learning so much about myself, becoming (sort of) more patient.
Fast-forward two years later, the unbelievableness of being hired by Doctors Without Borders. Meeting more amazing, inspiring humans who want to make a different kind of difference. Quitting my crazy job. Finding out where my placement will be. Packing up my life, finishing up my program, having last-for-now beers/dinners/walks/knit nights, worrying about war in the Middle East. Everything has felt so huge, organizing so many things, that I never thought about leaving, only getting to moving day.
Well, here I am, 8 sleeps away from leaving the home that I’ve been in for two years, and it’s only just hit me. I started looking for a picture to post on the morning of my departure, and in doing so, I found so many pictures from the last two years. Pictures of this stupid town that I’ve bitched about so many times, because there’s nothing to do and the ferry is so annoying and dammit, I’m scared of bears and cougars. But man, have I loved it. From the ladies at knit night who I’m proud to call my friends, to my neighbours and colleagues who kept me sane in the dead of winter, to my dear, dear friend Karen without whom I wouldn’t have made it here for this long. Pictures of my amazing Youth Peace Network families, people I’ve been so lucky to meet and I know will be a part of my life for years to come. Pictures of this incredible country, and all the accompanying memories of what this job has allowed me to learn and see.
I want to write more, but I’m about to get real depressing, so instead I’ll do two things: share some too many photos of this amazing life I’ve led, and use this opportunity to say thank you and I love you to those of you who have been a part of my life for the last two years, either here by my side or supporting me from a distance. Here’s to many, many more amazing adventures. May our paths cross again. (Especially you, Karen. You’re not getting rid of me that easily. See you in Cyprus ♥ And you, Newton family. Wherever we’re all together next, there’s a game of Cards waiting for us.)
My first ever cast-on
SO many Air Canada flights…
Jake delivering donuts at Saskatoon train station 🙂
My face when I finally made it to Vancouver in October 2012
I just got off a plane, and as I took my first step onto the tarmac, I thought: “Where am I?”. My head reeled for a second until I remembered that I was in Edmonton. It’s not the first time that this has happened to me. I often forget what day it is, where I’ve just been, or where I’m about to go to next. It’s a pretty heady feeling, but I kind of love it too.
Since 2011, I’ve been lucky to have two amazing jobs – first as a Katimavik project leader until our federal budget was cancelled, and then coordinating an exchange program for the YMCA. These two jobs have allowed me to see a large part of Canada – Moncton, Halifax, and Charlottetown for Katimavik, and Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna, Kamloops, Vernon, Calgary, Edmonton, Banff, Moosejaw, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City with the YMCA. The past year and a half working for the YMCA has been insane, going back and forth and back again between all these cities – sometimes, I don’t have time to unpack before I need to pack again. It’s been an amazing, and crazy, journey. I’ve been so lucky to discover great non-profit organizations in all the cities that I’ve visited, and meet some amazing Canadians along the way. It’s also been pretty lonely – I live in a small town in BC where I’ve been lucky to make a handful of friends, but I travel every other week, which makes it difficult to commit to anything. That being said, it’s taught me to be ok with doing nothing, and it has done wonders for my shopping addiction.
Now, I’ve given the YMCA my notice, and I’m about to head off to my next adventure. There’s one month left to this crazy job of mine. I’m in Edmonton for the next two days, on my last work trip – it’s the end of my two year jet-setting period! I’m off to equally, if not more, crazy settings – more uncertainty, and even less shopping opportunities! But I’m also off to a world of people who simply shrug and say “Yes, I’m on my way to Germany/Congo/New York/[insert country name here]”, and it’s no big deal – I’m looking forward to rejoining the global expat community where I’m not the only one coming and going all the time. Most of all, I’m looking forward to finding a sense of community again, challenging as that may turn out to be.
So, I haven’t been really good at posting this year. Constantly travelling made it harder for me to sit down and write, and travelling to places like Saskatchewan and Alberta made it difficult to find the motivation. Maybe that’ll be my 2014 resolution! In the meantime, here’s a quick rundown of my year, in numbers and pictures!
200: Nights spent in various hotels, houses, buses, trains and airports around the world
165: Nights spent in my own bed. It’s kind of insane that I spent more nights away than home!
33: Number of airplane rides. It’s come to my attention that I have flown more times this year than most people do in a lifetime. I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty tired. But I’m still, as always, itching to go on my next adventure.
100: Number of hours spent on trains. Taking the train across Canada does that! What a great experience, and I can’t wait to do it again next summer. My job really does come with awesome perks!
50+: Number of awesome new friends I’ve made, lucky me!
4: Number of new countries visited
Looking back, I realise how great this year has been! I got to go to California twice, once with an old friend and once with my mum, I got to spend an amazing 10 days in Amsterdam with my bestie, I got to visit Ukraine with some awesome new friends, I met my all time favourite singer Passenger, I had a job that allowed me to really see and get to know my own country (like hiking around Lake Louise for work!), I got to visit family and friends across the country more than I ever thought would be possible, and I had a cozy house to come home to at the end of it all.
Happy new year to all of you, and here’s hoping for an even better 2014!
My two main passions are travel and photography. It’s really convenient that they go so well together! Here is one of my favourites. I took it last October, when I drove across Canada. The prairies were so beautiful, with all the golden fields and the hay bales. That day, the drive took me a lot longer than planned, because I just had to keep pulling over to take pictures. In true canadian tradition, someone pulled over to ask if I was ok while I was taking this picture.
This weekend, I was in Saskatoon to attend a conference put on by an organization called Canadian Roots Exchange. The conference was about bridging the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous youth.
Of about 150 people who attended the conference, I was one of maybe 10 non-native people.
We They talked about what it means to be native, the 8th fire, Idle No More, spiritual practices, creation stories, the environment, their place in society, their elders. They talked about working to overcome the scars left by the residential schools, even today. I had nothing to add or contribute, and that’s good. I have so much to learn, and I’m still processing everything. My clothes still smell like burning sage. It’s incredible to see this group of youth who are ready to overcome past struggles, ready to make a change and a commitment to a clean and healthy life to save their histories and cultures, and to raise their children in a way that respects their elders and traditions. I learned what it means to smudge, and what it means to fight, sometimes silently, to fight for your religion and your beliefs. I learned about their struggle to stay true to themselves, when surrounded by their peers who are still lost. I learned about environmental racism, poison island and chemical valley. I learned the word Anishinaabe, among others. I was embarrassed when asked to introduce myself in a non colonial language. I couldn’t. One of the other non-native women at the conference wrote a poem about the guilt she felt – “I feel guilty, even though I was not there. I am white, they were white. I feel guilty.” The thing is, though, that they didn’t care that we are white or non-native. They’re here to build bridges, and they’re looking for allies. I got to spend the weekend with a group of youth who are ready for a change. What a rich exchange between people who have so much to offer, what an honor to have been a part of it.
I also just found out that the Nishiyuu Walkers are reaching Ottawa tomorrow, after a two month journey. They are thousands strong, here to make their voices heard, to prove that first nations care and are working together. Harper won’t listen. But we need to.
This week, I was invited to be a guest blogger for a blogging carnival run by a canadian organization called kickaction.ca. Kickaction is an online community of young women acting for social change across Canada.
There were three themes to choose from, and I decided to go with HERstory. Check out their website to read everyone else’s contributions over the next three weeks. Below is my original text, and in the coming days, I will be posting more of these directly on here.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
I wanted to tell a story, HER story to be exact. I spent some time thinking about who would make a good storyteller, which woman would want to share her life with us. It wasn’t long before I realized we all have a story, so I decided to make this a Canadian HERstory. During my cross-country meanderings, I asked women from British Columbia to Newfoundland to answer a series of questions.
The whole purpose of this post is to show that we all have deep and varied histories, but we all have similar struggles and dreams. The original plan was to come up with a blog post that synthesized all of their stories into one, a Canadian HERstory of sorts. It turns out that ultimately, these stories are too rich, these experiences too varied, and these ladies too insightful, to be reduced to one tale. I’ve decided to merge the answers into one voice for the purpose of this blog post, and it broke my heart to have to shorten these answers – these women are genius. Make sure to check out my own blog in the coming days, as I will be posting each woman’s individual HERstory at WHERESALEX.WORDPRESS.COM
1. Where are you from, and how has it shaped your life?
Newfoundland. Ontario. Somalia. Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Northern France. Saskatchewan. Québec. New Brunswick. Prince Edward Island. British Columbia. Not really “from” anywhere.
How can where you’re from not shape your life?! You are the sum of your experiences. And experiences depend a lot on where you live.
At the age of 19, I left all I knew and moved to Québec to learn French and start MY life. I became independent at an early age. I have always felt a little ‘different’. This has helped me stay strong during tough times.
The places my parents and I come from shaped my life in many ways. To be honest, I struggle with the Canadian identity.
I grew up in an isolated French community where people had to fight not only for survival but also for services. Transpires in everything that I do and am. I’m a fighter.
I was born in Northern France, in a city where unemployment, immigration and alcoholism are sky rocketing, and it gave me only one goal in life, get out of it… And I did!
I am from a province full of individuals who appreciate every little thing. They see blessings in everyday occurrences. This is the kind of person I want to be. This is the kind of life I want to live.
2. What is your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement to date is remaining positive and curious about life despite the hardships I have encountered.
Graduating university. I really didn’t think I was gonna make it through.
Great is living your life to the best of your abilities and, in the process, not ever willfully doing something to hurt another person. Humans aren’t perfect and spending a life trying to achieve perfection is futile. Just do the best you can and be honest with others and yourself.
My children! (Interesting – every responder who has kids has named their kids as their greatest achievement)
Being able to get away from really toxic family history and making a better life for myself.
I’m 28! Give me a break! I’m only starting to figure out life… And you’re asking me what my greatest achievement is? I don’t like this question! Living in itself is an achievement. Putting one foot in front of the other. Not giving up. Fighting. Being out there. Trying to figure out what to do with one’s life. I guess that’s what I’ve achieved so far!
The fact that I’ve been married to my husband for over 31 years.
This summer I hiked for one month in Vermont. I was completely unprepared. But I did it. And I kept doing it.
3. What is your greatest regret?
My greatest regret is forgetting to put myself first.
That I started smoking cigarettes when I was 16 and have struggled with quitting, so far unsuccessful after many attempts, for most of my life.
I no longer believe in mistakes. Everyone takes a different route to get to their ultimate destination.
I’m learning now that one of the hardest things anyone can ever face is making the decision to try harder or walk away.
Although I try my hardest to live without regret, I definitely give myself a mental kick in the pants every once and a while for not spending more quality time with my father. I imagine almost every person who loses a parent feels that way.
Greatest regret? I have no regrets. There are some things that I’d probably do differently if I’d known then what I know now, of course. Regrets are negative energy that pull you back. What many people carry as regrets, I try to learn from and move forward.
4. What would you tell a young girl who is struggling with something like her identity, bullying, not fitting in, etc.?
Believe in yourself. That is the starting point. This is the best advice I can give. It’s not always easy, but if you can get up in the morning, say these words and believe them, all will be okay. Don’t let others put you down or make you feel worthless because they are wrong.
Be what you want to be, and go where you want to go. If doing so means certain people will stop caring about you, good! You’ll find real friends along the way, trust me.
Be strong. I know that it’s not easy, but so many beautiful things are in your future. Find someone you trust, and talk to them. It’ll take time for you to find who you are, be patient and gentle with yourself. You have more to offer than you will ever know.
My mother said it to me, and I will say it to you now that I am 60: do not waste your precious, vital, young energy worrying about how you look! Adjusting your unique look, personality, interests to fit in with how others think you should be, just makes you an anonymous sheep in the flock. Stay true to yourself. The world needs those individuals who know who they are and appreciate their unique individuality.
I wish I could give kids a handbook on how to survive bullying, but you really can’t survive it without others’ help. My only advice to everyone who faces bullying is to stand your ground. It is hard and it might feel like a mountain, but please, be strong. It was never your fault, and don’t feel like you brought this on yourself. You exist outside of a small classroom; so don’t feel like it is the end of your journey. The journey has just begun.
Boy, do we all want to fit it. We all want to be normal. Skinny. Beautiful. Smart. Lovable. Perfect. Truth is, we’re all flawed. Because we’re all human. With time, you learn to choose where you want to fit in. What you are willing to compromise to fit in. You choose your friends more wisely. And you slowly learn to accept that you can’t please everyone.
You’re beautiful just the way you are. Surround yourself with nice people and positive people that see the real you.
Find an activity where it’s hard to lie to yourself, where you feel so much like yourself, you can’t pretend to be anyone else. If you need to know who you are, if you need to figure out where you are going, if you need to make a decision or come to terms with something, put yourself in your own “lie-less” situation and there is no other option than to let the truth come to the surface.
I know it probably seems unbearable right now, and that it will take forever, but it will pass. Growing older is the best thing that happens to mankind.
Many people do not know who they are or what their passion could possibly be. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to find answers to these questions, just keep moving forward. Find something that appeals to you and do it. Do it unashamedly.
You are beautiful and perfect. Try to be brave and don’t let other people make you feel bad about yourself. Things will get better, they did for me. Make the best choices you can, based on what you know and feel and try not to regret those choices in the future.
With the risk of sounding cliche/like your mother, it really does get better.
You already are a person, important and unique. Be who you are, truly, and you will become an amazing woman. Respect who others are also, and do not judge. DO NOT tolerate injustice done to you or to others. Speak up for others.
I’ve been in Vancouver for 3 weeks now. Things are going well. I had the opportunity to spend a week in Victoria, I’m currently planning trips to my work projects in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, as well as a trip to Toronto in January. I’ve got a few friends in the community, and I’m hoping to get involved in a couple of volunteer opportunities. I’m loving the weather – sure, it rains, but everything is so green, and it hasn’t been below 10 degrees yet. My job is challenging, and once the ball starts rolling, I know it’ll keep me busy. I have friends and family here that I am excited to reconnect with. My stuff has just shipped from Ottawa, and I’m excited because my little apartment is starting to feel more and more like home.
You know how things always happen in a weird way? Here’s a bit of backstory.
In March, when we found out that Katimavik was going to be cut by the government, I started looking for a new job. It needed to pay relatively well, and I needed to not pay rent. I found a sick job opportunity :
Job # 1 – Teaching on a tall ship that travels around the world. The interview went really well, the director seemed really interested. In the end, though, my teachables didn’t fit with what they needed. Sad moment – I was not going to circumnavigate the world (not yet, anyway)
So, I kept looking. And then!
Job # 2 – A position as a tour manager, based in Cuba. Full time, permanent, benefits. I even drove to New York City (24 hours of driving in a 48 hours period) for the interview. It went SO well. They loved me. But then, they had a problem with their license renewal. I kept getting encouraging e-mails, asking me to be patient. And I tried! I kept looking for shorter contract positions, and hoping that Cuba would come through. Imagine! I could live in Havana, and actually put my Hispanic Studies degree to use!
But, as I said, things always happen in a weird way. At the end of this summer, I heard about a new position at the YMCA of Vancouver, running a cool student exchange program for Canadian teenagers. I applied, and lo and behold, I got the job! Finally! After months of interviewing and coming So Close, I finally got a job! I set everything in motion – bought a new car, shipped all of my stuff, drove across the country, and started working at my new job.
Oh! Wait! I forgot something. Three days (three days!!) after I accepted the position in Vancouver, I got an e-mail from the Cuba job. That’s right. “We got our license! Let’s talk!” I regretfully told them that I had just accepted a new job. We promised to keep in touch – you never know, and I’m not one to burn bridges.
So! Where was I? Oh yes, I was moving to Vancouver. So, by the time I’d been here for two weeks, I got another e-mail! (Whaaaaat?!!!!!), this time from the tall ship! That’s right! “Will you come teach for us? We need someone to meet us in the Canaries, mid-November” Same deal – I made a commitment here, yadda yadda, keep me in mind for later.
Still good – job in Vancouver is taking shape, starting to get a better handle on my responsibilities, and then…
YOU GUESSED IT!!!
“Hi Alex! Just e-mailing you in case your new job isn’t working out, can I tempt you to come to Cuba from mid-December?”
So! What’s next? Here’s my thought process :
– It’s not a black and white question of Go or Don’t go. It’s Don’t go, and continue to have an amazing experience here in Vancouver and develop new skills and contacts that will take me far. Or Go, and maybe have an amazing experience in Cuba or on the ship and develop new skills and contacts that will take me far. Honestly, if it was Cuba or nothing, the answer would be obvious. It’s not that easy when the flip side is something completely different, but just as awesome in it’s own way.
– Please don’t tell me to go. I mean this in the least bitchy way possible, but you’re not in my shoes. I understand what I’m missing out on, I really do. But I also know what I’d be missing out on (and who I’d be letting down) if I left.
– “Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.” Yep, that one’s eating away at me. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I will always regret not going to Cuba. I mean, come on! I would get to live in a communist country on the brink of change, interact with locals like I never could otherwise, get to live in Latin America again… It’s heartbreaking. It really is. But, I also know that if I left Vancouver, I would regret that too. Live on the Sunshine Coast, participate in a program that helps young canadians learn about themselves and their country, get to know various canadian communities like I never would otherwise. The bottom line is that while I would love to teach on a ship, or live in Cuba, I believe in this job in Vancouver more than any other. I really feel that I can make a difference, by staying here. It doesn’t mean that I’m not grieving, but believing in what I do makes everything easier.
– As I’ve said, things happen in a weird way. But I’m also a super, super strong believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason, and that life will always take care of you (gotta thank my mama for that wisdom). There’s a reason I didn’t get those jobs in the first place, and there’s a reason that I got the Vancouver job when I did. I’m ok with not knowing what that reason is, but I feel better just knowing that there is a reason. (For more on my beliefs, read The Alchemist. I love the idea that the universe has grand plans for your life.)
– I am so, so, so, so, so, so, so proud that I not only found, but applied to, and GOT these two three jobs. I think that we don’t spend enough time feeling good about ourselves. So I’m going to take these minutes to think “Wow, I’m pretty fucking awesome. Check me out – I put myself out there, and I got all of these amazing opportunities.”
Which brings me to my final point. I don’t believe that the world has a finite amount of amazing opportunities. Some just fall into your lap (like this job in Vancouver), and some you work for (like the job in Cuba), but there will always, always be more. I’m excited to see what life is going to continue to throw my way.
It has recently been brought to my attention that what I am doing may not be considered normal by a lot of people. Right before I left, I had breakfast with a friend, who expressed concern over my 6 day, solo road trip. I hadn’t really thought about it, I just saw it as a series of six days of driving for 8-10 hours. I guess that most of what I do isn’t what a lot of people would do (drop everything every six months and move to England, Africa, New Brunswick…?), but I don’t notice anymore, because I’ve just been surrounding myself with like-minded people, and so my lifestyle hasn’t seemed extraordinary (my friend Jason just completed an overland trip from Zambia to Egypt!). I understand everyone’s concern, but this isn’t just something that I’ve always wanted to do – this is something that I’ve always known I would do one day. So that day has come, and I’m doing it. Pretty simple, yes? Well, it is to me anyway. I’ve flown across the country, I’ve taken the train from Vancouver to Halifax, and now I’m driving it. Maybe one day I’ll be really fit and I’ll ride a bike across. (Ha!)
The other things I’m hearing are incredulous comments about how long I’m spending driving. Believe me, I get it. I used to HATE driving. Just ask the girl that I went to Cape Cod with last year – I made her drive for the entire 8 hour trip back. And now, 8 hours seems like a breeze! Let me be very honest. I don’t always enjoy the driving. When it rains for 8 hours straight, I want to punch myself in the face. More than once, out of sheer boredom, I’ve wanted to pull over for a nap, only to find that it’s impossible because all of the stuff that’s in my car. My back hurts on and off, and when it’s really bad, I want to just leave my car somewhere and fly to Vancouver. I drive myself crazy because I can’t make up my mind about what music I want to listen to. I get angry at annoying drivers. Have I mentioned the rain?! When it rains, I want to punch the world in the face (which, on another topic, has me a bit worried, considering the weather patterns of my final destination…).
But you know what? I’m so happy that I’m doing this, especially solo. Believe me, I’ve spent some time wishing I had a partner in crime, but about 90% of the time, I’m super happy with my own company. I don’t have to talk, and most of the time I don’t even think. I can listen to whatever I want, and sing along in stupid voices and accents. I can listen to the same song on repeat 10 times, or skip songs every 25 seconds. I can say “Ooh! My boyfriend!” every time a Darren Criss song comes on. I still get really excited that my car only has one windshield wiper. I’ve named him Carlos, and he makes the rain slightly easier to bear. It’s like he’s waving at me every time he swooshes by. I can stop 10 times a day to stretch my back or go shopping or just look at the scenery. The scenery! When it’s not boring trees, it’s beautiful. I just got to the Prairies, and there’s so much sky! And old abandoned farms, and bales of hay everywhere. And because I’m by myself, I can stop and take pictures. I can take 100 selfies and not feel stupid, because no one is there waiting. I can take pictures of Carmen (my new car) and not feel weird that I’m taking pictures of a car. (To be fair, I’ve only taken two. Here she is, hiding in some tall grass. Hey, I never said I wasn’t bored.)
So, just so you know, things are great. Tomorrow, I’m heading to Regina, and I’m hoping to see more giant roadside attractions featured in the movie One Week. In the meantime, here’s a picture of me with my driving face on. (This was me being really excited to finally be out of Minnesota and back in Canada!)
When I was planning my itinerary, I got really excited about going through Sudbury, for one very specific reason : The Big Nickel. Most people don’t get it, but for me it definitely was a highlight. This movie is why :
I’d like to think that my journey across Canada is my very own ‘One Week’, obviously without the whole cancer diagnosis thing, and not running away from anything, but towards an exciting new job!
In order for you to feel like you’re a part of this journey, here are a few more highlights :
– I managed to leave on time! I left Ottawa at just before 9 this morning, and arrived in Sault Ste Marie just before 7 tonight!
– It was a beautiful fall day, which made 10 hours of driving through tedious Ontario forest so, so beautiful!