Wednesday, January 31, 2007

..."How to Write A Letter" and other things I don't do...

Often, the things that I teach to my students are relevant to my own life. Sometimes they are neither relevant to my life or to theirs. Hopefully that doesn't happen too often. Yesterday I was reading an excerpt with my Grade 6s from their Literature textbooks. I thought it was hilarious. My students kept asking me why I was laughing. (Could this be a theme - people asking me why I'm laughing?) I thought I would share with you the set of instructions written by
Garrison Keillor titled
"How to Write A Letter." (Garrison Keillor is the American equivalent of Stuart McLean) Enjoy!

[The] Same thing that moves a giant rock star to sing his heart out in front of 123,000 people moves us to take ballpoint in hand and write a few lines to our dear Aunt Eleanor. We want to be known. We want her to know that we have fallen in love, that we quit our job that we’re moving to New York, and we want to say a few things that might not get said in casual conversation: Thank you for what you’ve meant to me, I am very happy right now.

The first step in writing letters is to get over the guilt of not writing. You don’t “owe” anybody a letter. Letters are a gift. The burning shame you feel when you see unanswered mail makes it harder to pick up a pen an makes for a cheerless letter when you finally do. I feel bad about not writing, but I’ve been so busy, etc. Skip this. Few letters are obligatory, and they are Thanks for the wonderful gift and I’m terribly sorry to hear about George’s death and Yes, you’re welcome to stay with us next month, and not many more than that. Write those letters promptly if you want to keep your friends. Don’t worry about the others, except love letters, of course. When your true love writes, Dear Light of My Life, Joy of My Heart, O Lovely Pulsating Core of My Sensate Life, some response is called for.

Some of the best letters are tossed off in a burst of inspiration, so keep your writing stuff in one place where you can sit down for a few minutes and (Dear Roy, I am in the middle of a book entitled We Are Still Married but thought I’d drop you a line. Hi to your sweetie, too) dash off a note to a pal. Envelopes, stamps, address book, everything in a drawer so you can write fast when the pen is hot.

A blank white eight-by-eleven sheet can look as big as Montana if the pen’s not so hot – try a smaller page and write boldly. Or use a note card with a piece of fine art on the front; if your letter ain’t good, at least they get the Matisse. Get a pen that makes as sensuous line, get a comfortable typewriter, a friendly word processor – whichever feels easy to the hand.

Sit for a few minutes with the blank sheet in front of you, and meditate on the person you will write to, let your friend come to mind until you can almost see her or him in the room with you. Remember the last time you saw each other and how your friend looked and what you said and what perhaps was unsaid between you, and when your friend becomes real to you, start to write.

Write the salutation – Dear You – and take a deep breath and plunge in. A simple declarative sentence will do, followed by another and another and another. Tell us what you’re doing and tell it like you were talking to us. Don’t think about grammar, don’t think about lit’ry style, don’t try to write dramatically, just give us your news. Where did you go, who did you see, what did they say, what do you think?

If you don’t know where to being, start with the present moment: I’m sitting at the kitchen table on a rainy Saturday morning. Everyone is gone and the house is quiet. Let your simple description of the present moment lead to something else, let the letter drift gently along.

…Don’t tear up the pate and start over when you write a bad line – try to write your way out of it. Make mistakes and plunge on. Let the letter cook along and let yourself be bold. Outrage, confusing, love – whatever is on your mind, let it find a way to the page. Writing is a mean of discovery, always, and when you come to the end and write Yours ever or Hugs and kisses, you’ll know something you didn’t when you wrote Dear Pal.

Probably your friends will put your letter away, and it’ll be read again a few years form now – and it will improve with age. And forty years from now, your friend’s grandkids will dig it out of the attic and read it, a sweet and precious relic of the ancient eighties that gives them a sudden clear glimpse of you and her and the world we old-timers knew. You will then have created an object of art. Your simple lines about where you went, who you saw, what you said, will speak to those children and they will feel in their hearts the humanity of our times.

You can’t pick up a phone and call the future and tell them about your times. You have to pick up a piece of paper.

Now if only I could find a pen which draws a sensuous line...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

...starfish and children, and men, oh my!...

******January 14th, 2007******
I have been a little behind on my updates, it's true, but I am trying to remedy that asap. The greatest problem (other than being busy) is that I've tried to upload pictures and have been having a hard time with the internet connection. It seems like the connection is good today, so I'm trying to take advantage!
On Sunday the 14th, I went to River No. 2 for the second time since I've been back. I surprised myself when I realised that it was only the second time I'd been there - my first experience in Sierra Leone included living at No. 2 for two weeks. Many things at the beach have changed. For one, they've painted the buildings we stayed in blue and erected a couple of 'watch towers' painted bright orange with the "Africell" cellular phone company logo. The sand is still there though, white and beautiful as ever. This time, I made a starfish.
These boys were standing on a boat in the water when I was taking pictures at Franco's, a restaurant down the road from No. 2. I asked them if they would pose for a picture and they were very obliging. They asked me if I was still in high school. It's universal.
Perhaps the most entertaining point of the trip was the drive to River No. 2. I went with friends I met throught Hanneke originally but now consider them to be my friends as well. A large majority of them are male and Lebanese. I found myself riding in a SUV with four grown Lebanese men. We only had one English CD to listen to (thanks, Lucy!) and it was titled "Hairbrush Songs" (or something like that) about the halfway point of our trip, the song 'It's Raining Men' came on and the car was filled with the booming voices of four grown Lebanese men belting out the lyrics at the top of their lungs....
"It's raining men, Hallelujah! It's raining men...."
They wanted to know why I was laughing so hard. I think they're still wondering.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

...Blood Diamond...

"Scatter your good deeds all around,
Not caring whether they fall on those near or far away,
Just as the rain never cares where the clouds pour it out,
Whether on fertile ground or rocks."

~ Ibn Siraj- Cordoba Spain. Died 1114 AD.~

This is the fairly deep poem that was part of a trinity of poems my students discussed today in Social Studies. We're studying early Islam and its spread and looked at the culture of Muslim Spain this morning. I think that this poem is both beautiful and relevant; I suppose it takes the bumper sticker "Practice random acts of kindness, sensless acts of beauty" to a whole new level. Seems like they really did make things better back in the old days.

A friend of mine made a comment to me in an email recently, and I quote "I've noticed your Blog posting has become a little intermittent, so I'm guessing either there's nothing going on, or there's something going on." Good options. But which is it? Well, I suppose it's a little of both. I have been busy lately, but not with anything particularly news-worthy. The novelty of the beaches have worn off slightly and soon I'll just have to start recycling photographs. I'm worried you are all going to get tired of pictures of Sierra Leonean children and dirt roads, and I never seem to have my camera around for those "I wish I had a camera" moments (although, the lack of camera at that moment does define it). I'd like to start a couple of snapshot series including "I didn't know you could write that on a T-Shirt...or an automobile." and "Only in Salone." This will be a work in progress...

Second term ends this week and so I will be working on report cards on Saturday.

All day.

I could take photos of that...but...well...exactly.

I guess we could say I'm settling into life in Freetown and when that happened my perspective changed slightly and the previously spectacular became mundane.

Talking about changing persective....

So I watched a pirated version of this movie last night at Mamba Point, a popular after-work and weekend hang-out for ex-pats. Tuesdaynight is movie night. I think the constant thought I had while watching the film was "what would I be thinking about this if I were back in Canada?" I'm certain that my reaction to the movie would have been different if I had been watching it in an air-conditioned theatre in Toronto or Hailfax, rather than in a restaurant that masquerades as a theatre once a week, where ex-pats are waited on by Sierra Leoneans, and where I sit in the knowledge that the real Sierra Leone is just outside the panes of glass and metal bars lining the large windows. I think if I were in Canada I would have fallen for the emotional theatrics of the film and I would probably be teary-eyed at the end, if not all out bawling. But I was neither here. It's not that I didn't experience emotion while watching the film, but it was hard to believe some of the movie - the terrible Afrikans accent, the deplorable Krio (which sounds more like a native Chinese speaker trying to speak English than it does Krio), and the fact that I didn't recognize any scenery as being in Sierra Leone (a fact because the film was mainly shot it Mozambique and South Africa). Not that they didn't try, it just wasn't that convincing. Also, fishing boats don't have sails. And the beaches here are more beautiful than the ones in the film and the mountains are more impressive.

Another strange feeling I had was based on a line from the film where Leonardo DiCaprio's character is talking to Jennifer Connelly's character in a beach bar in Freetown. She is accusing DiCaprio of abusing the continent and its inhabitants and DiCaprio retorts with something like imperfect quotation) "You come here with your malaria medication, notebooks, and little bottles of handsanitizers and think you're making a difference!"

I took my Larium on Sunday morning.
I keep my mini-bottles of handsanitizer in my bedroom closet.
I have another in my desk drawer.
Notebooks are everywhere I am.

I was sitting in a room packed with about 50 other people who could say close to the same


Overall, the film isn't a bad portrayal of events from the civil war. The portrayal of child soldiers seems convincing and fairly accuarate. While I watched it I wondered what my friend who was a child soldier would think of it. I suppose his reaction to the movie could be compared to the experience of war veterans watching Saving Private Ryan.

Anyway, to summarise, my feelings were mixed but I'd still add it to my 'films that mean something' collection.

And that, is that.

Monday, January 22, 2007

...death of a snowman...

*phew* Alright, I have been trying to post this photo series for WEEKS (literally) and have run into load of problems. First I took forever to download my photos on to my computer from my camera, then I kept forgetting to save them onto a disc to take to school, then, when I finally burned them on a disc the disc was corrupted, then when I had a good copy of the photos, I didn't have time to post them because I was kicked off the computer (story of my life around here). SOOOOOO....the waiting is over now. Let me explain the photos.

My parents sent me two Christmas packages in advance of Christmas with instructions not to open them before Christmas. To my credit, I waited. Inside one of the packages was 'Frosty' the nicest snowman-candle you'd ever seen. I was pleased. I set about creating a festive centre piece for the Christmas table and put Frosty in the place of honour in the middle of the cedar branches. He burned brightly and steadily all through our meal. And then he was gone. This is the chronicle of his short, but bright, life. I hope you enjoy it as I did. He added a brightness that no one will be able to replace.

Cue the music: "Floating Through the Air" by Erik Satie.

Thanks, Mum.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

...a little bit overdue...

Alright people...the photos you've all been waiting for. Or not. But I'm still going to post them. I have a few from over the Christmas break - it's taken me a while to upload the photos and burn them to a CD. I have been pre-occupied with work (funny thing, that). But now, here they are:

from left moving clockwise: Charbel, Janet, Meghan, Adam, Sylvanus.

Check out this make-shift Christmas tree! Janet and one of our workers, Suliman, put it together on Christmas eve. Meghan and I decorated it with paper chains, snowflakes and Christmas cards I received. That's Greg hidding in the corner. He's Canadian. Apparently, Canadians do strange things like that. Don't ask. I try not to.

Festive! (that's my friend Kevin on the left)

These are the snowflake decorations Meghan and I made to decorate for a Christmas party we had at Kevin's house. We used these snowflakes for the Christmas tree, too! How frugal.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

...Dalhousie, running a close second to Trent on the hippie-o-metre...

Ok. Don't take this the wrong way, I'm all about environmental protection and preservation (my newest Social Studies board is about the three 'Rs') but this email notice from my university made me laugh out loud in the computer lab. I felt I needed to share it with you. My facetious comments are in green. Because green is the colour of environmentalism. I swear.


You've been asking, and we're responding. (well thank goodness someone is listening!) You can now buy Fair Trade Coffee at three University Food Services locations: the Kenneth Rowe Management Building, the Sexton Campus Alumni Lounge, and the coffee shop in the Life Sciences Centre. Each location also uses recycled paper cups rather than styrofoam. (bravo).

Our Food Services Manager, Derrick Hines, says "The supplies for coffee and cups cost more, but if our students are looking for a product and are willing to pay the price to cover our extra cost, then we are willing to try it ... and we like the added bonus of helping the coffee bean farmers." (I love that added bonus. Thanks, Derrick.)

University Food Services is also currently working with suppliers to replace stryofoam plates with bamboo and sugar-based paper plates which are renewable resources and completely biodegradable.(...and also edible.) As well, plans are underway to replace plastic cutlery with biodegradable cutlery made out of potato starch. (I honestly don't know if I can take this seriously. In other news, everything made out of metal on campus will soon be replaced with a bean curd alternative. Sweet!) Watch for these innovative initiatives this spring!

Oh Dalhousie, you're making Trent students everywhere jealous...

Monday, January 08, 2007

...keepin' it real...

Well, as fast-paced and fascinating as my life usually is, things have been fairly sedate as of late. In fact, I spent most of Sunday afternoon watching a pirated 'B' rated television show called "Empire Gladiator." What's more, I enjoyed it. It's possible that my interest in this mediocre broadcast is the result of the three years of Latin I took in high school and its requisite study of Roman history and culture, or perhaps it was the brief unit I recently taught to my students on the early Roman Empire, or more likely it was the fact that there isn't that much to do after Christmas, it's harmattan season and the weather outside is frightful (and the fire isn't even lit...let alone delightful), and to top it all off, I have another cold. Bah!

The highlight of my past week has been working on a presentation for my students to do for the Martin Luther King Jr. assembly on Friday. It's gonna be ghetto-fabulous. I've take the Black Eyed Peas song "Where is the Love" and mixed it up with some quotes by Dr. King and of course, included a powerpoint slideshow of moving photos. The students are picking up on their bad-to-the-bone hip hop moves, and I must admit, the choreography looks fa-bu-lous. Thanks to Mr. Wallace for his help. I'm hoping I can get a video camera and record the performance and then post it here. We'll see...for now, here are the lyrics we're using from the song:

What's wrong with the world mama?
People living like they aint got no mamas
I think the whole worlds addicted to the drama
Only attracted to the things that bring you trauma
Overseas yeah we tryin to stop terrorism
But we still got terrorists here livin
In the USA, the big CIA
The Bloodz and the Crips and the KKK
But if you only have love for your own race
Then you only leave space to discriminate
And to discriminate only generates hate
And if you hatin you're bound to get irate
Yeah madness is what you demonstrate
And that's exactly how anger works and operatesY
ou gotta have love just to set it straight
Take control of your mind and meditate
Let your soul gravitate to the love y'all
People killing people dying
Children hurtin you hear them crying
Can you practice what you preach
Would you turn the other cheek?
Father Father Father help us
Send some guidance from above
Cause people got me got me questioning
Where is the love?(where is the lovex3)(the love2x)
If you never know truth
Then you never know love
Where's the love y'all?(I don't know)
Where's the truth y'all?(I don't know)
Where's the love y'all?
I feel the weight of the world on my shoulder
As I'm getting older y'all people get colder
Most of us only care about money makin
Selfishness got us followin the wrong direction
Wrong information always shown by the media
Negative images is the main criteria
Infecting their young minds faster than bacteria
Kids wanna act like what the see in the cinema
Whatever happened to the values of humanityW
hatever happened to the fairness and equality
Instead of spreading love, we're spreading anomosity
Lack of understanding, leading us away from unity
That's the reason why sometimes I'm feeling under
That's the reason why sometimes I'm feeling down
It's no wonder why sometimes I'm feeling under
I gotta keep my faith alive, 'til love is found

Monday, January 01, 2007

...yu mak mi laf so...

"Your hair is soft."
"Like a feather."
"Er, yes."
"...from a chicken."
This is the kind of comment that makes me laugh now-a-days.

Also, the always flattering "you're getting fat" made another appearance on Sunday. Not as funny as the chicken joke, I'm not gonna lie.