Friday, October 12, 2007

Personal Responsibility, Balance and Design

So, this post was born from a talk I gave before I left for my trip and then revised and re-presented at the Prairie Conservation Forum in August of this year. I warn you, it's long. However, if you're curious as to my view on the current state of the environment and how we need to stop engaging in polarizing arguments, by all means, read on.


It’s not often that I can claim to think as fast as or to be as prescient as David Suzuki. However, upon hearing Richard Branson’s offer of $20 million to the first person who could present him with a machine that removed carbon from the atmosphere; my first thought was “I’ve got this in the bag. I’ll just take him a tree, or algae or a grassland in the springtime”.

However, David Suzuki claimed it publicly and thus has deprived me from a life of luxury – thanks a lot David Suzuki.

Suzuki is of course, correct.

We are surrounded by the very machines that are capable of removing carbon dioxide at a prodigious rate. Photosynthesis, the process of taking in water, nitrogen and carbon dioxide and then using the sun to catalyze these ingredients not only removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it release oxygen as a byproduct. The trees themselves are returning nutrients to the soil and, when the trees die, they become sources of nutrients for more plants and trees.

This incredibly efficient machine works best when we leave it alone.

But we don’t leave it alone. That fact, in and of itself is not a bad thing. For thousands of years we’ve depended on these machines to not only produce oxygen, but for food, fuel, building materials.

There is no other product as readily available and as versatile as a tree. With very little effort a tree can be turned into fuel, shelter, medicines, food, binding materials, clothing fibres and countless other products. Many of which have been used for thousands of years.

The difference today – and for the past 100 or so years – is the scale at which we cut down trees. Modern logging practices were defined at the end of the 1800’s. Where pre-industrial people would harvest one tree at a time, modern machinery can strip trees from the land faster than traditional cultures could ever dream of harvesting them. Our grasslands are converted to farmland or worse – covered by greenhouses – or refineries, removing those plants from the machine.

It is our demand for cheap, readily accessible products, food and materials that guarantees we will continue to remove the most efficient carbon-storage machines on the planet.

And the problem is not limited to the removal of trees and other plants. Because of course, while we are removing the very devices that can sweep the carbon from the atmosphere, we are pumping ever higher levels of CO2 into the atmosphere.

This is the second version of this talk. When I was first invited to give it, I began scribbling down thoughts, generating power point slides and writing to right the world.

I did this about a dozen times and confused myself in the process.

And I kept running into the plain, inescapable fact that what really bothers me in the quest to save this little blue and green marble we live on, is not the increase in greenhouse gasses, the dramatic waste of water, the tremendous inefficiency with which we manage our resources or the arrogance we have towards the earth.

What really keeps me awake is blame casting, our own self-righteousness and the deep politicization of the environmental problems.

At the end of the day, we are not destroying the planet. We are destroying our ability to live on the planet. Make no mistake about it, this planet and life on it will survive. It has survived for 6 billion years. It has survived coming into being as a spinning ball of gasses, it has survived meteor strikes, it has survived ice ages and it has survived numerous above ground and underground nuclear blasts. Earth will survive us and all of our insidious ways.

The author Kurt Vonnegut died April 11 of this year. Kurt was a big proponent of the idea that we lay too much blame on others for our own misfortunes. Kurt understood that we are merely tenants on earth and that tenants can be evicted if they misbehave. His final written words are a testament to the idea of personal responsibility in the face of the environmental crisis.

Kurt Wrote:

When the last living thing has died
on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
perhapsfrom the floor
of the Grand Canyon,
"It is done."
People did not like it here.
-Kurt Vonnegut

So, once we get our own insignificance out of the way, we can concentrate on what we can do to extend our time here. And the first thing we can do is to stop pointing fingers at “the oil industry” for producing fossil fuels or “the logging industry” for destroying carbon sinks. Pointing fingers is easy and it lets some of us sleep better at night. After all, we’ve proven time and again that nothing is our fault. All the trouble we find ourselves in can be blamed on someone else, corporate North America or the government. It’s time for us as a species to engage in a little introspection and self-evaluation.

Let’s start with a question. Do you have a cell phone? I do. Let’s take a quick look at the environmental impact of what has become a ubiquitous accessory in our lives. It’s made out of plastic and a mineral called coltan. Coltan is mined in the D.R. Congo – which is as a nation is an ongoing human rights nightmare. The mining of Coltan is for all intents unregulated and completely out of control and due to the location of the mineral, is stripping the jungle habitat of low-land mountain gorillas. Literally, every cell phone produced and sold contributes to the increase in greenhouse gasses though the production of the plastic case and by the deforestation of the African rainforest due through the mining of Coltan.

According to the CTIA, the international association for the wireless industry, there are 229 million wireless subscribers in the United States alone. Figures put Canadian wireless use at over 18 million subscribers. That’s 247 million wireless devices in use in North America alone – and North America isn’t even close to the world’s largest cell phone market. In 2005 Motorola introduced the RAZR. It sold 80 million units globally in six months making it the most successful cell phone launch ever. People, that’s a lot of plastic, and lot of the CO2 absorbing machine being consumed for our tools of convenience.

Now, who is to blame for the increase in greenhouse gasses due to the production of cell phones? Companies like LG, Motorola & Samsung? Maybe, but surely we must take the lion’s share of the blame for convincing ourselves that we need a device that up until 20 years ago, was the stuff of science fiction.

Don’t be depressed by this. It’s not your fault. O.K. it’s your fault, and the reality is, at this point due to political will, economics and our own laziness, greed and lust for new shiny toys, you and I are exercising very few other options.

At the Nature Centre we talk a lot about Sustainability. But we need to ask the question: What are we trying to sustain?
We are trying to sustain our time here. We are trying to sustain the resources we think we need to survive.

I think, the concept of Sustainable Living is almost outdated. We can’t possibly sustain our standard of living at it’s current level.

Right now the City of Red Deer covers 71 square kilometers for 85,705 people. If we merely sustain our level of urban sprawl, then by the year 2031 when our population reaches it’s projected level of 117,219 we’ll need over 100 square kilometers of land.

If we merely sustain our level of development and our current habits, most of those extra 32,000 people will drive – by themselves - the increased distances to work, school & play.

If we merely strive for sustainability, then we aren’t achieving anything.

Instead, let’s strive for increased efficiencies. Let’s strive for increased housing density. Let’s strive for a more efficient use of our non-renewable resources. Let’s strive for public policy and development regulations that encourage people to live close to work and schools. Let’s strive for public transportation that doesn’t involve standing in the cold in February – because that sucks.

We need to achieve the understanding that we and we alone are responsible for our fate and the fate of the plants and animals affected by our decisions.

Without some major technological innovation, we are stuck with the consumption of fossil fuels to produce the goods that we actually need and those that we feel we need or are entitled to.

There are very few things we buy or consume that don’t contain a reprocessed fossil fuel or that didn’t burn fossil fuels for the energy needed to drive the manufacturing process. I’d give you a list but it’s easier for you to simply look around when you get home.

I know I’m overstating a point already hammered into your consciousness, but we need to make a serious commitment to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. The easiest way I can think of to do that is to make it an economic issue. At the Nature Centre, one of our core philosophies around the issue of sustainable power generation is that “The cheapest and cleanest energy is the energy you don’t use.”

When I talk about reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, I mean every single one of us needs to try harder. I admire Al Gore and David Suzuki for their messages. However, it smacks of hypocrisy to me, when Al Gore justifies maintaining an incredibly large home and driving a Cadillac SUV while filming An Inconvenient Truth and David Suzuki travels across the country in a highway coach that idles outside his presentation venues, with the statement “I buy verifiable emissions credits so my carbon imprint is neutral.” In effect what Al Gore & David Suzuki want is to sustain their current level of emissions while asking us to reduce ours. To me, Al Gore in particular would have a ton more credibility if he showed some actual leadership and worked towards reducing his carbon emissions rather than simply buying his right to live extravagantly.

“But,” you may say, “I work hard for the things I have.” I do too. And I’m not advocating that you give up on all the things you buy and consume. I’m simply advocating that you really decide what you need and separate those things from what you want. Then, when you buy the things you want, buy the most efficient examples and get better and longer term use out them.

This brings me to, what in April, was my final point. We need to have more control over the design process for the goods we buy and somehow, we need to be awed by technology again.

We have lost our ability to be impressed by technology. Remember back like an hour ago when I started talking, I was talking about the cell phone? It’s become a need and we are so underwhelmed by them that we are no longer impressed by the next big thing that a cell phone can do. Texting, internet, WiFi Hot Spots, GPS navigation, push email, digital cameras, video camera, mp3 music playback, mpeg… these are all cell phone features and terms that we throw around without appreciating technological leaps they really signify. We’d better start being impressed by something right quick or we’re just going to keep expecting newer, flashier, more feature-laden toys. And what do we do with our old toys? Like little children, we throw them away. Why do we throw them away? Well, they’re not cool anymore and besides Telus or Rogers or Bell will give you a free new one if you sign a contract.

Which finally brings me to design. A lot of our problems could be solved by better design or better designers. We aren’t designing intelligently and we aren’t designing for the long term. Call it planned obsolescence or call it poor planning but the things we buy and use are often either designed to be replaced rather than repaired or so poorly thought out that they aren’t used.

The best, although not the only example of this ecologically poor design is the iPod. Apple’s iPod has no screws, no pins, nothing to unfasten in order to open it to fix it. If it breaks in less than a year you return it Apple and they send you a new one. You’ll know it’s new and not repaired by checking the serial numbers. Up until very recently, once the rechargeable battery had packed it in, your iPod was garbage. You can now buy a kit & battery to do a replacement yourself. However, this is unsupported by Apple. The image of a 1950’s father leaning over the radio or toaster, screwdriver in hand is as antiquated as the black and white television it first appeared on.

So, when you wake up in the morning, I ask you to challenge yourself to the following:

1. Begin taking stock of how you use energy. What are the things that you do, consume or purchase that contribute to the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

2. Take some responsibility for your actions. Remember, the planet doesn’t care whether we’re here or not. Only we can change our future.

3. Stop fighting with people who think differently than you. Believers believe. Non believers don’t or won’t. In fact hard-core non-believers will be marshalling their counter arguments as you are talking. You are going waste a lot of time and energy fighting battles that can’t be won. Find the fence-sitters, the undecidedes and concentrate on educating them to make better decisions.

4. Live the change you want to see. If you want people to drive more efficient cars, make more ecologically sound purchases or use greener energy, then be prepared to do so yourself. Buying so-called “credits” so that you can maintain an extravagant lifestyle while insisting others make sacrifices helps nothing and probably gives fuel to those who would claim there is no problem to solve.

5. Don’t feel guilty for having stuff. Try to stick to the stuff you actually need and when you buy your wants, buy them as efficiently as possible.

6. Take the bus, walk or ride your bike to work and encourage your kids to do the same. Granted it’s damn cold here during a significant portion of the year but really, unless there is actual precipitation falling from the sky there aren’t too many days kids can’t walk to school. And, if the streets are dry, you have six months of the year to ride a bike to work.

7. Replay and relive mom’s nagging. I can still hear the phrases “If you’re cold, put on a sweater.” “Close the door. Are you trying to heat the neighbourhood?” Mom was right, the cheapest – and greenest – energy we have is the energy we don’t use.

8. Eat locally-produced where you can but understand that we can’t possibly feed large urban populations without bringing in food from outside areas. When you must buy non-local food, buy foods with as little processing and as little packaging as possible.

9. Encourage local governments to think outside the box when considering future urban development. The technology exists right now for massive solar-power infrastructure, water conservation, fossil fuel reduction and other urban, green solutions for new communities. We need policy makers and community leaders to institute the appropriate legislation to assist developers shift the way they build.

10. Don’t despair. We will figure this out. We’re pretty good at coming up with solutions to tough problems. This one’s just a little tougher and it’s going to require us to make some tough choices.

It’s easy to stand in front of people like you and make these arguments. You are by and large, the believers. You may not be fully on board with combating global warming or any specific problems, however simply by attending a forum such as this you have demonstrated a willingness to accept change. It’s now time for you and I to go out and lead by example.

This is our newest mission at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre. For the first 18 years of our existence we were content with the role of environmental educators. We taught the public, youth groups, day camp kids and school children about the plants and animals that surround us. We showed them how the food chains work, how trees produce and store energy and how streams and rivers change their landscapes. We helped them understand how the habitats of Central Alberta are changing and how those changes affect the animals – including people – that depend on them.

Now, we have to show them positive behaviours. We have to show people of all ages how to be “green leaders” in their own community. We started these efforts in 2000 with the expansion of the Nature Centre building. By embracing the concept of “The cheapest & cleanest energy is the energy you don’t use” we created a work space that is lit by natural light wherever possible. Where we need artificial light, we’ve installed CF bulbs. In our back hallway there are two light tubes that reflect sunlight and moonlight into a fixture that looks exactly like a standard fixture.

We installed a waterless urinal in place of an 18 year old flushing unit. This change alone saves over 30,000 litres of water per year.

In 2005 using a Centennial Technologies Grant from the Province, our aging, 60% efficient furnaces were removed and replaced with 96%, high-efficiency models connected to a heat-recovery ventilator. At the same time we took out the aging water heater and installed an on-demand system that only burns when hot water is called for. On four furnaces and one water heater there are no pilot lights.

And, we installed the first Grid-interconnected, solar photo-voltaic power system. Currently it is providing enough power to cover about 85% of our lighting needs. Installed on a typical 15 – 20 year old residence, this system would produce about 250% of the home’s power needs with the extra power being fed into the grid during daylight hours. The real significance to this project however, was to show the City Electric Light and Power department that grid-connections were safe and effective. Now a home owner simply needs to apply for the appropriate permit, have their system installed by a licensed electrician and have the work inspected by the City inspector; the same for any residential electrical project.

That solar system sits on a roof clad in tiles made from rubber, recycled from old tires. The roof will outlast the building and as the tiles look like slate, is attractive to the public.

Most importantly, we’ve opened the back spaces and the ugly spaces of the facility to show people what they can do in their homes. We host green energy days each year and invite suppliers of alternative fuel-vehicles, eco-friendly building products and emerging technologies. We tour the public through the building and facilitate visits to our residential neighbours who have installed high-tech project like solar and wind power as well as simple projects like rainwater collection.

And, we are attempting to bring part of the parkland grassland back to its original make up. The north section of our property spent 50 years as a cow pasture. It’s loaded with thistle, henbane, toadflax and other non-native invasive species. Through a series of plant inventories, prescribed burns and eventually replanting native species, we are working toward bringing this unique habitat back to native grassland. We are doing this for the animals that live there and the public at large who need to see functioning grasslands in order to understand this habitat’s importance to us.

I didn’t mean to end off sounding like I was blowing our own horn. The most important thing we feel we can do is lead by example and then share our experiences with others. Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts and our experiences with you today.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ainsley Dancing Videos

This is video of Ainsley's dance class from Wednesday night. Apparently nothing in Windows will play an mp4 video taken on a cell phone.

So, now these aren't Africa related or GSE related but this was the only way to get video to people.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Late Night In Doha

Is not as exotic as it may sound when you're trapped in the transit area of the Doha International Airport. Duty free & fast food is the name of the game here. Oh and a free high-speed internet connection if you have the patience to stand in a queue for a 1/2 hour to get on-line. Anyways, Doha is perhaps even hotter than the last time we were here. And it's 11:30 at night so things can only get better. We fly out at 2:30 am for London and then race between Gatwick and Heathrow so we can wait there for three hours. And then... nine hours on Air Crapnada for the final leg home. On the way out we had the lovely experience of going from Air Canada (ugh) to Qatar Airways. It was like trading in your rusty old Ford pickup for a new Mercedes S-Class. On the way home, we doing the opposite and getting the truck back. Oh well, it's headed in the right direction. The plan is to sleep on the way from Qatar to London and then stay awake from London to Calgary. That way, I should be tired when we land at 6:30(ish) pm, go home stay up for a few hours and go to bed at a reasonably normal time. What could possibly go wrong???? I'm looking forward to some of the small things. Like, not wearing any of the clothes I've been recycling for the past six weeks. Like, eating something I can readily identify at sight. Like, driving in normal traffic at normal speeds surrounded by sane people. Anyways, there's a bunch of people waiting for the machine so I'll do the polite Canadian thing and give up my spot. Later all.

Friday, June 15, 2007

One Less Mzungu In Africa

At least there will be in three days. It's Friday folks & we leave on Monday.

We just got back from a really quick trip out to Morogoro which, if you've never been there is east of Dar approximately half way to nowhere. Morogoro has a univeristy, two tobacco processing plants, some very nice people and a Rotary Club. Morogoro sits not quite close enought to some very cool stuff.

Things we may have wanted to see - like the Mikumi National Forest Preserve and the Uluguru Mountains - were deemed to be too far away by our hosts. Now, I could actually see individual trees on the mountain from the house I was staying in and while the meeting with the Director of TAFORI was ok, I could've been to the moutain, had a hike and been back in time for our afternoon program. But... apparently, unless something is located directly in your back yard in Morogoro, it's too far away.

So, Morogoro was what it was. A small industrial/college city that lives on the brink of irrelevance. Most of the group say that this was one of there favourite stops but for me, it had neither the hustle & bustle of Dar and Kampala nor the peaceful tranqulity of Tanga, Zanzibar or Mwanza.

So, good bye Morogoro.

Bqack in Dar now and apparently, according to our hosts, it's on for the next couple of days. they're throwing us a two night party at a couple of locations - fortunately one of them is the house that I'm staying in. the parties aren't just for us but they seem content to wrap a number of things together and call it good.

See ya in a few. Later.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

If it's Tuesday it Must be Dar

Well three days off in a sleepy island town can do wonders for the body & brain. Jambiani, on the east side of Unguja (the largest island that makes up Zanzibar) is the absolute definition of "sleepy tille town".

We spent our thee days off on the beach, snokelling, napping, taking picutres and eating. After the running around of the last month it was a much needed break. Yesterday's dives were the two best I've ever had.

We met the dive tender up the beach in Paje, geared up and took a long, slow ride out to the outer side of the reef that spans about 15km of the south east coast. The first dive was kind of a mind trip as there is nothing between Zanzibar and India except thousands of kilometres of Indian Ocean. In front of me was the coral reef and all the marine life you could imagine - including a small reef shark - and behind... big, dark and empty farther than you could imagine. Dive two was inside the reef where the water was a little less clear but the bottom time was almost endless. Amongst other things like moray eels, bat fish & parrot fish, we hovered over hundreds - well maybe a hundred - blue spotted stingrays. In all I got about 75 minutes under water over the two dives, a long surface interval and averaged about 19 metres depth. And to top it all off, was warm enough that I only needed a shorty wetsuit, not a full length one.

The rest of the day was spent wandering through town. In Jambiani we met a really cool local guy who calls himself Captain Cook. He walked up to us and asked how long we were in town, who we were and finally got around to hitting us up for some business. His business is his own tiny restaurant. Owned, run and maintained by himself complete with handwritten menu - which he showed us we walked & talked. We agreed to go check it out and decided that we'd come back for supper. Equinoxe - the restaurant - is an exercise in culinary minimalism. It has no floor save for the sand on the ground, no walls taller than about three feet, a thatched roof set on poles, one table and a kitchen who's only cooking appliance is an open fire. Naturally we were all over this. The food was incredible. Coconut crusted tuna, rice, a mixed carrot & onion salad and cold beer. Food should always be this fresh & this good. His guest book has pages of raving customers, all of whom he basically hustled off the beach like us and agreed to go in and take a chance on a guy who's trying to make his way on his own terms. The bill- drinks included - came to under 7,000Tsh each; about $6:50 Canadian. Turns out this young guy - 26 years old - grew up in Jamibiani, scraped enough money together to get to South Africa to apprentice as a chef, came home to his little island town and went his own way. If anybody you know ever gets to Zanzibar, send them to Equinoxe and Captain Cook.

Today we packed, cabbed it into Stone Town, picked up our ferry tickets, convinced the owners of Mercury's to open long enough to let us buy ice cream and took the high-speed ferry back to Dares Salaam. It's back on the road tomorrow to Morogorro - by bus oh joy - for a couple of days. We weren't going to go but the Rotary club there has a meeting that they'd like us to be at and so, we go. Plus it's a new place and when you can either stay somewhere you've already been for your first eight days or go somewhere new, we usually choose new. So, Morogorro tomorrow & Thursday and then back to Dar on Friday.

We're going to be on National TV in Dar on Friday. We're getting interviewed on the country's biggest daytime talk show. Should be entertaining.

Saturday and Sunday will be in Dar and then we start the long journey home on Monday. I'll be in the arms of Shan and the kids by Tuesday night. Seven more sleeps.

Good night all.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

It's Zanzibarific

So, we've given ourselves three days off in Zanzibar. We're beat tired.

Before anybody cries foul let me explain. We've been going seven days a week, 7:00 am to 9:00 pm for five weeks now. Breakfast meetings, school, orphanage & NGO tours, travel, presentations and generally just being "on". It's far more grueling than people looking in from the outside would believe. So, we're taking three days of R'n'R - at our own cost, not Rotary's.

So, how did we get to where we are since the last post. We hit Zanzibar after flying in a very small, single propeller plane out of Tanga and across the Indian ocean. Our hosts met as at the airport and took us on our seperate ways to their homes. Once again I lucked out on the acomodation front. Where the others spent their two days in the suburbs of Stone Town, my host Zaher, has an amazing roof-top apartment right above the narrow streets in the heart of the 300 year-old town.

Stone Town itself was great but hot and the days were pretty long. Our vocational tour day (our only full day there) had stops, meetings etc... at Save the Children, an OT clinic, the West Indian Ocean Marine Science Association, The Zanzibar International Film Festival and a bank.

The evenings in Zanzibar were spent at supper, walking the streets of the old town and at one Rotary Club meeting.

So now, we've bussed across the island to a tiny little town called Jambiani. We've met a retired Canadian couple that run an NGO here that is training local people for meaningful careers in the Tourism Industry; beyond just housekeeping jobs.

These are days off for us. Yesterday we spent 6 hours on a dhow sailing around the local area, snorkeling, eating fish, and drinking local beer. Today is an absolute nothing day. Tomorrow Bill and I are off to a town called Paje for a day of diving on the reefs around Jambiani and Paje.

On Tuesday it's back at it for the few days - jammed packed full of official stuff until we go home. Be back in 9 days folks.


Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Arusha, Moshi and Tanga Oh My

O.K. back on line two locations from when I last posted.

First a small mea-culpa. Charla, I was so busy in Arusha that I didn't have a chance to get any photos of the clock tower or anything. And, the &%#$ Moshi club wasted so much of our single full day that any time I could have had going into town, finding your old house etc... was spent hanging out at the Honey Badger Lodge and Cultural Centre (where I was staying) for an entire morning. However, I did meet a woman who thinks she may know your mom! Remind me when I get home and I'll tell you the story.

For the rest of you... where to pick up.

Arusha is a pretty cool place. The host clubs were amazing to the point where a recent arrival to Arusha from South Africa - Wayne - basically appointed himself as our driver for three days and insisted upon taking as many of us as possible to as many places as possible.

The highlights were the Mezerani Snake Farm & Masai Cultural Centre in Mezerani. And, yes that is one location. The snake farm is basically a cheesey zooish, interpretive centre for some incredibly venomous snakes, crocodiles and incredibly, a raptor rehabilitation centre! There was an amazing grey Goshawk being rehabbed there for a broken wing and they have full intention of releasing it if at all possible. For me, holding baby crocodiles and a Rufous Beaked Snake were pretty cool.

However, one of the coolest things so far was when we got a chance to see history in the making (or in the wrapping up depending on how you look at it). We spent an entire morning at the ICTR, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. This is the UN backed tribunal that has been investigating, indicting and trying the architechts and participants of 800,000 Tutsi at the hands of the Hutuu in 1994. We got about 2 hours with one of the lead prosecutors - a Canadian from Ottawa - and then got to sit in the gallery of the trial for the former Rwandan Minister of Health. Pretty sobering place. Everywhere you walk in the building, which is huge, there are reminders ofwhy the ICTR exists and what they are hoping to achieve.

As many of you know I'm a pretty laid-back person. Not much bothers me. My Swahili at this point has progressed to the "greeting, order cold beer, where's the bathroom" stage. However, we went to this little market. I've named it "The Gauntlet Market". They sell mass-produced handi-crafts of all shape and size. However once you go through three or four stalls you realize that everybody is selling the same thing. In the rain & mud, this activity - for me anyways - got old really fast. So I'm walking along down the rows of mud & trinkets with a couple of people in each stall calling out "Brother brother come see my shop". And I'm not really interested but I'm a pretty polite person so I'm saying "Pole" (sorry), "Hapana" (no), Pole, Hapana... for about 45 minutes. I should mention that this was a group activity and I'm not a shopper at the best of times and at this point I'm now just basically waiting for the others to finish. In the rain. And the mud. And the noise. And at point point a guy reaches out of a stall grabs my arm and pulls me towards the entrance. My response was a very loud "back off", which he didn't understand and kept pulling me toward the entrance of the shop. My next response was "Toka!". At which point he dropped my arm and retreated to the dryness of the stall. Toka means essentially piss-off.

So, yeah, nobody gets anything from Arusha. Sorry.

Where to next? Oh yeah Moshi. Moshi could have been cool if someone there, who shall remain nameless, had pulled his head out of the orifice it was stuck in and actually done his job instead of stranding Bill and I at our hosts house for 1/2 a day.

Our hosts in Moshi were lovely. Dr. Peter is a retired translator. He's a Phd in Psychology and a Phd in Theology. His wife is Mama Lucy. Together they run the Honey Badger Lodge and Campground. Now, the really great part is that they use the profits from Honey Badger to run their own school called the Second Chance Academy. It's a school that gives children who've failed their Standard 7 exams another chance to move on. In Tanzania if you fail your standard 7's, the government is officially done with you. Imagine having your education cut out from under you at 12 years old!. Anyways, they treated us like royalty, insisted we eat in their home and toured us through the school. I gave Mama 200 pencils for the kids, for which I was blessed, hugged, kissed on the both cheeks by all 300lbs of her.

The afternoon we did get to spend out was up at the trailhead of the Marangu route for Kilimanjar. This was kinda bittersweet for me. I loved being on the base of the mountain but really really wanted to be amongst the people heading up. Something to plan for in the future. We did walk down to the Marangu waterfall which was very cool. Of course, if there's a fast flowing river with the potential for a semi-dry crossing I'm going to take that chance. So, I deftly hopped across the first 2/3 of the stones, doing quite well, when of course I missed one and ended up somewhere between my ankles and knees in the Marangu river. That combined with the wind and spray coming off the falls meant that my ride back to Moshi was wet and cold. Great photos though!

Good bye Moshi. Good bye un-named jackass. Hello Tanga. Acutally, hello over-crowded, hot, smelly 4 hour bus ride to Segera. In Segera I was the first of the five of us off the bus, jumped down into a screaming crowd of people all of whom either wanted to sell me a bag of oranges or steal my backpack. Let me tell ya, when you're in that situation and a perfect stranger calls your full name, you follow them! The name shouter was the President of the Tanga Rotary Club who had done his homework and memorized our names and faces. Getting the bags from the bus to their trucks was an exercise is hand to hand combat. In the space of 8 feet we had to push, shove & shoulder block just to hang on to our bags. And that was with the Rotarians helping.

Tanga was very cool! Our hosts had actually read our profiles and so split us up for vocational visits. We got to spend time with people we were interested in and had things in common with. For me that meant about three hours with at group called SEMMA (Sustainable Environmental Management through Mariculture Activities). They word with women and men to set them up in business that are environmentally sound, profitable and easily managed. Their two big projects are kelp cultivation for the pharmaceutical industry and Mud Crab fattening. Very impressed with them.

The rest of our stay in Tanga was spent touring old German ruins and buildings. They have an active historical preservation society called Urithi that is attempting to stave off building demolition and redevelopment in favour of reclaiming old buildings and making them suitable for modern use.

Kaden and Ainsley also got pen pals out of Tanga. My hosts have three little girls that were thrilled with the idea of trading letters with a couple of Canadian kids.

And finally, today we flew to Zanzibar. Also known as the best place in the world. I may just tell Shan to sell the house, cars, furniture etc... bring the kids and move here. Flying into Zanzibar from Tanga was um interesting. We flew a 12 seat, single propeller, Cesna 280 which seemed to jump around with every tiny breath of a crosswind. Dana called her pre-departure photos her "Tell my mom I love her" shots.

But here we are. The girls are staying in the burbs of Stone Town while Bill and I are right in the heart of Stone Town. We're in a two-floor, three story walkup that's been around since the early 1800's. My "room" is actually the covered, open terrace above the courtyard. Stone Town is so immensley tight that you can barely get one car down the inside streets. We walked around the old town tonight, had a drink on the beach at the edge of the Indian ocean and then back up through the winding alleys and coral sand walls.

Th th that's all folks. At least for now. We're in Stone Town for two nights and then across Zanzibar to Jambiani for four days of sun and ver few official responsibilities. Can't imagine what we might get up to.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Let's Try This Again

There's been no posts for a number of reasons. In Kampala, blogger wouldn't upload any posts & I wrote and posted three that never showed up. So, you all lost a weeks worth of info from Kampala - which isn't a huge deal because we were just at the conference and not much happened.

Then, I didn't have access to a computer or internet connection in Mwanza. The Mwanza club kept us super busy and there wasn't enough time to break off, walk downtown and sneak into an internet cafe.

Now, here we are in Arusha. Bill and I are staying with an American ex-pat named John who has a computer, internet connection and the good will to let us jump on whenever we need. Thank you John.

So, what to write.

We stayed at the Speke Resort in Kampala Uganda for a week. It was nice if you like staying in high security compounds surrounded by guys with automatic assault rifles. We were there for the Rotary District 9200 Conference. We met people from Eithiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tazania as well as the other Canadian GSE team (from St. Catherines) and the American team (from San Diego).

The conference was billed as an environmental conference so naturally I was pretty excited about the discussions and seminars they'd be offering. Unfortunately there was very little on-theme content. As a result, we spent a lot of time doing very little. Fortunately we got time to rent a boat and head out onto Lake Victoria. One of the more ironic and mind-boggling things we found out, was that the Speke Hotel - home of the Rotary District 9200 conference "Our Environment Ourselves" - is built on a wetland. A practice specifically prohibited by Ugandan Federal Law. Except: The owner of the Lodge is good friends with the President of Uganda.

We did get a chance to spend a day in downtown Kampala and that was mind-blowing. Kampala is busier than Dar, more aggresive than Dar and dirtier than Dar. However, we found a fantastic traditional Ugandan restaraunt above the main intersection below the state house. There are Marabou Storks flying around all over the place and they're ugly buggers. People in Uganda hate them because during the Idi Amin years, the storks used to pick the bodies of the dead.

Out of Uganda and off to Mwanza on the 21st of May. Mwanza was really cool. Bill and I got a ton of freedom when we weren't with the Rotary club. Our hosts were out of town and left us three bedroom, two story walk up flat in downtown Mwanza. We basically had the entire place to ourselves and the freedom to come and go as we please. Naturally we left whenever we could and spent some time walking the streets of Mwanza.

The girls unfortunately had much tighter controls placed on their time as their host was paranoid about security, lived behind a locked gate and wouldn't let them leave on their own. As we've run into irony all the way along, it seems that Mwanza shouldn't be any different. Before we left Alberta many of us watched Darwin'd Nightmare a documentary film about the Nile Perch fishing industry on Lake Victoria based out of Mwanza. The owners of the Nile Perch Fish Company were portrayed very badly and the industry was essentially accused of starving the local population. The reason being that the introduced Nile Perch are outcompeting the local Tilapia and other native species to the point where local lake dwellers have nothing to eat. The owners of the company came off looking really bad. Imagine our surprise when we meet the girls' host and lo and behold, he's the guy from the documentary. It gave us lots to talk about and surprisingly he was very forthcoming and willing to talk about the industry, the film and it's effects. He went so far as to give us a tour of the fish plant and answer darn near anything we asked him.

The rest of the Mwanza stay for me was great. I spent time hiking and climbing in the hills above the city. In order to get up onto the rocks you have to climb up through a massive squatters' settlement. It's incredibly well organized with mud & stick housed set into the rock faces. The people were super friendly & once they realized that we weren't from the WHO and that we weren't looking to relocate them, they were perfectly happy to let us past and up onto the rocks.

From Mwanza we flew to Arusha, where we are now. Arusha sits at the base of Mount Meru. In terms of climate it's completely unlike anywhere else we've been. It's cool, damp, get's lots of rainfall and everything is green. There's even moss growing in the trees just like on the west coast.

We spent three days on safari (our mid-point vacation to ourselves). We hired a Land Cruiser and a driver and spent three days in Tarangirie, Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater National Parks. Pretty impressive with the laundry list of animals you'd expect. In three days we saw: elephants, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, warthogs, wildebeest, hartebeest, servals, blue monkeys, baboons, spotted hyenas, a black rhino, hippos, countless birds, nile monitor lizards, a chameleon, gazelles, antelopes and on and on...

Lots of pluses to being on safari and a few negatives. Lots of issues around disappearing wildlife corridors, genetic viability, habitat distruction, etc... To many to go into detail here.

I had a fantastic meeting with a guy named Clive Jones who was with the African Wildlife Foundation & now works on renewable energy projects including PV work. That was one of the best two hour periods I've had since I arrived.

Two more days in Arusha then off to Moshi, Tanga, Zanzibar, Morogoro & then back to Dar es Salaam.

Later all.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Missed A Few

Missed a couple of day there. we've had two very long days with two very long nights.

Wednesday we spent the morning at a governemtn run school for kids with no other means of support. Rotary has just purchased two uniforms each for all 2100 of them. Today we're giving them 4200 pencils (two per child) and a wall-mounted sharpener.

In the afternoon we were at the CCBRT - a very cool hospital that not only provides surgery and artificical limbs but does comtinuing community outreach to ensure that patients are getting the appropriate follow-up care and physio-therapy.

Yesterday was hard and great at the same time. The morning saw us at an orphanage for children who had lost their parents to AIDS. Mom - this is where your Gogo efforts are making a difference. Very eye-opening & sad.

The afternoon was better for me as I got to skip the trip to the youth remand centre and had a meeting with the Director of the National Tourism School. I got look in on a class that was learning about guided touring. When we get back here at the beginning of June, I've been invited to give a seminar to the class on North American-style interpretation & guided touring. Our Rotary hosts may need to shuffle the schedule a bit but they'll probably make it happen.

Another long day ahead of us.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


So this evening I find myself drinking Belgian beer, speaking French with a Masai at an Indian restaurant in Dar es Salaam. How Cool Is That!?

Long day and I'm tired. Went to the University of Dar today and then met the Canadian High Comissioner. We gave our first presentation today at the Rotary Club of Dar es Salaam - north. Pretty good effort on our part. Power point worked & people seemed happy.

So far in three days I've shot 125 pictures and kept about 115 of them.

Oh and for all the bird lovers reading this. I woke up this morning all ready to hear and see cool different birds. I opened my curtains and what did I see. Two English House Sparrows and a crow!

Short post for now. More maybe tomorrow. I'm not sure how much I'm looking forward to Friday as we're going to a pediatric-terminal cancer ward.

Gotta sleep now.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Now Appearing In Dar es Salaam

ME! Having a nap. Actually showering then having a nap. It's 4:30 Monday afternoon here, make that 7:30 am in Alberta.

We're here and here's what I've learned so far:
1. Serengeti Beer is fantastic
2. Serengeti Beer is really quite good.
3. I smell kinda funky.
4. People here drive like Formula one drivers on meth.
5. People driving like Formula one drivers on meth, on the "other" side of the road, when you yourself have had a couple and are super tired... well that's merely terrifying.
6. Being met at Customs and Immigration and being whisked through around the masses - very cool.
7. Electricity is pre-paid. Kinda weird, you pre-buy your electricity, enter a code into a monitoring box and get a prescribed amount of power.

O.K. that's it. The heat and humidity and general exhaustion have done me in. Gotta run.

More another day.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Very Tired

Ok, what day is it, what time is it and where the hell am I?

Monday, 6:30 am, Doha Qatar in that 0rder. It's been a whirlwind so far & I'm running on minimal sleep so don't expect much here.

London is a very cool city. Bill, Dana, Carla and walked all over downtown, saw all the cool places and put on about 10 miles. Had a proper pint in a proper back-alley bar and went to all the places you would imagine you'd need to see in London.

It's absolute heaven for interpretive signage junkies. If you like reading signs, London is the city for you. They even put interpretive signage up on the escalators that are under repair in the Underground.

Doha is HOT! 31 degrees C at 6:30 in the morning. You can tell this is a county with some serious money as the airport internet access has two-dozen terminals, all high-speed and all free.

Jumping on the plane for Dar es Salaam in under two hours. Post more later.

Friday, May 4, 2007

One More Night

You'd think that in the last week before leaving, I might post more than twice. You might think that if you were insane.

Between being insanely busy at work - and having more than a little guilt at leaving the Nature Centre so short-staffed, unavoidable as it was - and shuttling the kids to and from their various commitments, and waging a four-member war on whatever virus decided to land on the family, posting twice seems like a lot.

Anyways, it's 11:45 Friday night. Bags are packed. Work stuff is put to bed. Kids are sleeping. New camera has been tested, checked & suitably played with. Passport is in money belt and my suitcase is surprisingly not full. If it wasn't for this thing, I'd be a little more full, however Eagle Creek has made it possible to fold and pack: one pair of dress pants, three-sleeve button front shirts, one pair of MEC rad pants, one pair of convertible pants, two wicking T-shirts, and two pairs of shorts into something smaller than a medium three ring binder.

I think tomorrow will be spent making breakfast. playing tea-party with Ainsley, riding bikes with Kaden (rain permitting) and reassuring Shannon that really, I am allowed to go to Africa and leave her with the kids for 44 days. Does she win the "Best Wife Ever" award? Of course she does. Although I'll apparently be funding a number of "Spa Days" when I get home.

G'night all. Next post will be from: a. London, b. Doha c. Dar es Salaam or d. Wherever the plane takes us.


Monday, April 30, 2007

Nice Timing

Five more sleeps until we get on the plane and...

I have a cold.

That's right, in a act of pure, wilful defiance my normally iron-clad immune system has gone on strike and let the children's colds come screaming in.

I don't think I can handle any more grapefruit juice, Advil, exposure to Kleenex, sniffling etc... Really, it's getting old. Considering when I do get colds they hang around for three to four days and this one's been really stuck on for a day and a half, I should be feeling great by Thursday. However, if my immune system doesn't pull it together, the two of us are going to be having a serious talk.

On the upside, if I still have a cold when I get on the plane, at least I can infect 200 or so other people. Misery loves company. Right?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

It's A Great Problem to Have

We never dreamed it would get this big.

Tonight we counted the bundles and put the boxes on a bathroom scale. To date we have 12,730 pencils weighing in at 150lbs -coincidentally the maximum weight in extra baggage I can take.

Do you know how much room in an average sized house 12,730 pencils takes up? It's 127 bundles of 100 pencils each. Each bundles weighs about 19 oz. 100 pencils is about what the average sized adult can successfully brace against their body with one hand - ensuring that they don't move to fast lest those 100 pencils break free and skitter across the floor just as you try to wrap an elastic band around them. Also, when the elastic band inevitably breaks as you wind it for a third time, it's really hard to control those 100 pencils. So far I've been smacked in the eye, the lip, the cheek, the wrist and the knee by snapping elastic bands.

Five and 1/2-year-olds really like opening packages of pencils. Two and 1/2-year-olds really, really like spreading pencil packaging throughout the house. Seven and 1/2 year-old Rottweilers have absolutely no interest in pencils or packaging. If it's supper time for said dog & they are being ignored, then they really care about pencils and packaging and will do their level-headed best to sit in the middle of the controlled piles and wiggle them into chaos while whining and barking.

12,730 pencils generated a surprisingly small amount of waste. It didn't quite fill a blue box with paper once the boxes were collapsed. Plastic waste was less that three grocery bags full. Unfortunately the plastic used in pencil packaging is not recyclable.

So that's behind the scenes with Kaden's incredibly successful "Kids Helping Kids" pencil project. Many, many people need to be thanked. Mom and Dad for bringing in all the BC pencils. Kaden's cousin Jessica for her shoebox full of cool stuff. The Wards for their usual amazing level of support for everything we do. Shan's Dad Merv for pencils, errands and general assistance. My brother and his wife. Shan's sister and her husband. Meghan and Deet. Nat. Sean and Katy. Charla and Matt for harassing their co-workers. G.W. Smith school for kicking things off and letting the media in. The Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School Environment Club for collecting 2075 pencils and $271 in cash. Sue and the rest of the staff and students at St. Martin de Porres Elementary for collecting over 2300 pencils & cash. Shannon's co-workers. My co-workers. Sherry and Jerry Hedlund & Grand Central Stichin' for 630 pencils today. Our Mayor's Mom! Colin from the City Rec Department who made the first cash donation - $20. Jeff Stokoe & Leo Pare from the Advocate. CHTV & CTV news. And many many other people & groups, both close friends and complete strangers who helped with this either through cash donations or through pencils. If I didn't list your name it's only because I'm exhausted not ungrateful. And of course, my four GSE team mates who will be helping deliver these to kids who really need them.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Birthday Presents

Among the things to do before I leave lies the job of "buy the kids' birthday presents". Yes, I officially lose the Father of the Year award as I'll be gone for both kids birthdays.

Kaden's lobbying pretty hard for a skateboard.

And Ainsley, the last time I asked what she'd like for her birthday, thought she might like to have a doughnut. I did remind her that a doughnut is a snack and probably not a great birthday present. Her next choice? A carrot. And you just know that she won't be pleased if we get her a carrot even though she explicitly asked for one. Three-year-old just don't have that kind of a sense of humour.

Oh and we did wills today. As is "This is the last will and testament of... being of sound mind etc..." There's a depressing way to spend 40 minutes with a lawyer. However, it does check one of the most important things of the list so, I feel better.

Next up, still need to find pants. I know, it doesn't quite have the same gravitas as The Will. However, I'm considerably more stressed out by this one.

10 more sleeps.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Not Africa Related At All

Seriously this is not an Africa post. This is simply an excuse to do this:


I am resisting all Flames & golf course related jokes I know. It's all in the pursuit of good karma because Vancouver could be sharing the links with Calgary in under two weeks if things go poorly. Wouldn't it be ironic if after all the years of missed playoffs, playoff chokes, two final round losses this year Vancouver went all the way.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ten Work Days Left

So, there are ten work days left until we climb on the plane and fly from Calgary to London, London to Doha, Qatar, Doha to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Thanks to everybody who helped make getting to Africa possible. You are (in no particular order), the Ward family, the entire Waskasoo Park Interpretive Program staff, Rotary International District 5360, anybody who's helping Shannon while I'm gone, my folks and of course Shannon, Kaden & Ainsley. If the'dy once said "Don't go", I wouldn't have gone. But they didn't, they've been amazing. Thank you.

So, to keep you all up to speed, I along with four team members from Central Alberta, am spending May 5 - June 19 in East Africa; specifically Tanzania and Uganda. We're travelling under the Group Study Exchange program, sponsored by the Rotary Foundation.

There's still a bunch to do both at home and at work so this first post is deliberately short.