Tag Archives: international

Shorts too short, and other lessons in culture

17 Jan

The school Healthy Grenada is working with had a PTA meeting tonight, so Frond and I went to introduce the program to the parents. As we were sitting waiting for the meeting to start, the principal pulled us aside into another classroom and asked who was going to be presenting. Frond said both of us. But she replied that I wouldn’t be able to do it because of my shorts. I don’t have many shorts, and the one pair that I wear a lot while here are pretty short I suppose. Not by North American standards, but for a Roman Catholic Elementary school, I could see what the principal was talking about. She said that I could hand out the fliers we had made, but I couldn’t be presenting. In the end, I went home to change and we presented together.

I appreciated the principal pointing this out to me, as it’s important. But I felt bad because I had worn these shorts to the school before, while doing activities with the kids. It really hit me that for all my trying to make Healthy Grenada a culturally competent program, I had overlooked many basic things.

We stayed for the entire PTA meeting, where parents shared some things they had learned about food, artifacts, and songs that their “forefathers” used. Grenada’s independence day is coming up in February, and judging by the efforts going in to it around town, it’s a pretty big deal. The principal and vice went on to talk about programs they are running for the students, including Sports Days (with an “Infant Cross Country Race” where the kindergarteners run a cross country course — incredible! People were saying how it was such a short course, but to me it sounded like quite a length), Spelling Contests, Reading Contests, and an ongoing school-wide Physical Activity competition. I was thinking the whole time about how I had came in to the school with so many assumptions about what the school had to offer their students. It had me wondering what exactly Healthy Grenada had to bring that would benefit the school. Was the school doing us more of a favour, by giving us a chance to volunteer with their kids? During their school time? I felt like a silly tourist.

After the meeting, we went to thank the Principal for inviting us to the meeting. She asked where we were from, and when we told her she said how we’re three different cultures. We agreed, adding that we’ve got a lot to learn from them, and she said, “Yes a lot to learn from each other” and gestured her hand back and forth between the 3 of us.

Stop The Tar Sands

14 Dec

Not surprising but still ultimately sad. The guardian’s take here, which nicely sums up the (non)-repercussions of backing out of Kyoto at this point, and what it would have taken to meet Kyoto (it’s true that by now it was way too late).

From PostNoBills:

The Canadian government currently lead by Prime-Minister Stephen Harper is not gambling with our future, gambling implies that we are unsure of the result, Stephen Harper, his governement and the governemnt of Alberta lead by current premier Alison Redford as well as the various vested buisness interests are plainly and simply destroying our environment. Here are a couple of quick facts: About 90% of the water used to process the Tar Sands ends up in acutely toxic tailing ponds that line the Athabaska River and threaten the health of the whole river basin. For every barrel of oil extracted, six barrels of tailings are produced.  [Steph: For every 1 barrel of oil extracted, 3 barrels of water are used.] According to a recent Environmental Defense report, the ponds are already leaking over 11 million litres a day of contaminated water into the environment. Should proposed projects proceed on schedule, 2012 would see a five-fold increase, to over 25 billion litres a year.

For such a vast and beautiful country, full of boreal forrests and fresh water it is quite sickening that we are also responsible for one of the largest projects that is causing such catastrophic environmental damage to the entire planet. It comes as no surprise that Canada’s current political leaders would be withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocal. When you’re running one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emisions it makes no business sense to have to pay for it, does it? The fight is not about Kyoto now, it is about stopping the tar sands. How much more of the future are we willing to forsake to run the present day. We should be talking about sustainability not profitabilty.


“It’s in the way we live our lives exactly like the double-edge of a cold familiar knife and supremacy weighs heavy on the day it’s never really what you own but what you threw away and how much did you pay?”
Greg Graffin


Today it was announced that Canada will be withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol. It’s not too hard to see why, all one has to do is look towards Alberta and the Oil Sands. “The Alberta Oil Sands Operation are the largest single point source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada” Source, desmogblog.com If current development plans proceed, by 2020 the Tar Sands will release twice as many greenhouse gases as are currently produced by all the cars and trucks in Canada.

The Canadian government currently lead by Prime-Minister Stephen Harper is not gambling with our future, gambling implies that we are unsure of the result, Stephen…

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Go home

13 Dec

One of the most frustrating things about my school are the other students and the things some of them say.

On my way home to Toronto via Trinidad, the first leg of the flight was in a Turboprop with about half the plane full of students.  In this small plane, some are talking about how desperate they are to get off the island and never return.  You couldn’t pay me to come back, one said.  When the cabin was sprayed for mosquitos, one joked about the next thing waking up in a strange place, Hostel-style.  Reply was that even being drugged and abducted and tortured would be better than staying in Grenada.  And so on.

It’s embarrassing to be in the same group as these people, so harshly ripping into an amazing, beautiful country in front of people who have grown up there and live there now.  Totally without a clue, these guys are.  I feel pretty certain that they’ve hardly ventured out from campus except the usual trips to the IGA or beach, and doubtful that they’ve had a conversation with a Grenadian outside placing an order for food.  Because that’s the only way I can explain how anyone can live here for 1-2 years and still talk like that.

Get It Done: Revived

10 Dec

If you haven’t yet seen this video of Anjali Appadurai addressing the U.N. Climate Change Conference, you should.

Last night I was talking to Frond about a friend of his from the India Fellowship, who had taken ideas from her year in India and was applying it to a new clothing line she was starting, with a business model based on developing the local economy of Detroit.  I thought about my roommate’s sister who went from International Development into Jewelry Making (“metal-smithing” she calls it), and makes amazing pieces that are out of this world.  I thought that it would be nice to have a passion that was more whimsical, that was more creative, and less emotionally draining than some “cause” like Climate Change.  In response, Frond told me about the advice he was given back when he wanted to go into music and philosophy.  Basically, not to do it.  That unless he found an academic position, he’d be another artist working hard in music, pouring their passions in, and having to scrape by.  Or having to accept struggling to find students to teach music to, in order to make a living out of their passions.

I can see how any passion can be draining, just as much as it drives you.  So although Anjali Appadurai is preaching to the choir when it comes to people like me, it is so invigorating to see someone so angrily, eloquently, and – there’s no other word for it – passionately express why you were drawn to this passion in the first place.

The transcript:

CHAIRPERSON: I’d now like to give the floor to Miss Anjali Appadurai with College of the Atlantic, who will speak on behalf of youth non-governmental organizations. Miss Appadurai, you have the floor.

ANJALI APPADURAI: I speak for more than half the world’s population. We are the silent majority. You’ve given us a seat in this hall, but our interests are not on the table. What does it take to get a stake in this game? Lobbyists? Corporate influence? Money? You’ve been negotiating all my life. In that time, you’ve failed to meet pledges, you’ve missed targets, and you’ve broken promises. But you’ve heard this all before.

We’re in Africa, home to communities on the front line of climate change. The world’s poorest countries need funding for adaptation now. The Horn of Africa and those nearby in KwaMashu needed it yesterday. But as 2012 dawns, our Green Climate Fund remains empty. The International Energy Agency tells us we have five years until the window to avoid irreversible climate change closes. The science tells us that we have five years maximum. You’re saying, “Give us 10.”

The most stark betrayal of your generation’s responsibility to ours is that you call this “ambition.” Where is the courage in these rooms? Now is not the time for incremental action. In the long run, these will be seen as the defining moments of an era in which narrow self-interest prevailed over science, reason and common compassion.

There is real ambition in this room, but it’s been dismissed as radical, deemed not politically possible. Stand with Africa. Long-term thinking is not radical. What’s radical is to completely alter the planet’s climate, to betray the future of my generation, and to condemn millions to death by climate change. What’s radical is to write off the fact that change is within our reach. 2011 was the year in which the silent majority found their voice, the year when the bottom shook the top. 2011 was the year when the radical became reality.

Common, but differentiated, and historical responsibility are not up for debate. Respect the foundational principles of this convention. Respect the integral values of humanity. Respect the future of your descendants. Mandela said, “It always seems impossible, until it’s done.” So, distinguished delegates and governments around the world, governments of the developed world, deep cuts now. Get it done.

Mic check!

PEOPLE’S MIC: Mic check!


PEOPLE’S MIC: Mic check!


PEOPLE’S MIC: Equity now!


PEOPLE’S MIC: Equity now!

ANJALI APPADURAI: You’ve run out of excuses!

PEOPLE’S MIC: You’ve run out of excuses!

ANJALI APPADURAI: We’re running out of time!

PEOPLE’S MIC: We’re running out of time!


PEOPLE’S MIC: Get it done!


PEOPLE’S MIC: Get it done!


PEOPLE’S MIC: Get it done!

CHAIRPERSON: Thank you, Miss Appadurai, who was speaking on behalf of half of the world’s population, I think she said at the beginning. And on a purely personal note, I wonder why we let not speak half of the world’s population first in this conference, but only last.

Not exactly…

25 Nov

Thinking back to memories from Year One back in the UK, and when I was helping the Global Health Committee host Dr.Paul Roux for a Global Scholars Lecture Series on Pediatric AIDS in South Africa.  A great talk.

One of the best quotes from the night was from a pre-lecture chit-chat with Dr.Roux and the rest of GHC.

So why does Grenada need so many doctors?


Middle income

7 Nov

Middle income households back home live pretty comfortably.

Grenada is a middle-income country.  Meaning it doesn’t quite qualify for a lot of international aid programs, in some ways is doing quite well, but still has pretty dire poverty in many places.

The other night I slipped out of Frond’s place to head to the gym, hopping out quickly to try to keep mosquitos from coming in.  I saw the silhouette of two little boys, maybe 10 or 12, drinking cartons and rummaging through the trash bins outside Frond’s apartment.  Not wanting to embarrass them, or maybe embarrassed myself, I started walking towards school as if I hadn’t just seen two kids looking for food in my trash bin.

I had seen them before, one time during the day.  It was a few weeks ago and I was backing out of the parking lot.  I noticed them lingering around the garbage cans and I wondered what they were up to.  Something shady, I thought.  One boy, the taller one, was acting kind of like a look out and the other littler one was fiddling with his backpack behind the fence that the garbage bins sit next to.  I thought maybe they were drug lookouts or maybe they were child thieves.  They had backpacks and clothes without holes and shoes.  They looked like regular kids, except a little shifty eyed.  I’m not sure what it says about me that my first suspicions were that these young boys were part of a drug ring rather than that they were hungry and waiting for a chance to look for food.

I remember going through primary and high school continually hearing how lucky we were to be living in Canada.  I thought maybe they meant no war, clean water, no dirt roads.  I heard it so many times that it became kind of a cliche.  But Grenada is a middle income country.  On a scale of all the countries of the world, Grenada is average.  If you just arrived to the planet and asked to see how an average country lives, Grenada could be an example.

I still don’t really comprehend fully how lucky I am to have grown up where I did, but I think it’s a step to realize that you don’t really know.  It’s like realizing you don’t really know what the rest of the world is like, even what most of the world is like.  I’ve been raised in a bubble and it’s almost ridiculous how safe and easy it is there.


After the final no

22 Oct


It’s an old article, from 2008 (I always find it a bit funny to hear professors say that, when the year doesn’t really feel that old to me), where Jeffrey Sachs talks about negativity standing in the way of solving global problems.

Yesterday Frond asked me what drives me.  I said it was the feeling that if something isn’t done, nothing will be done.  In my experience, the most common and most frustrating problem to run into when trying to solve any problem (or keeping a good thing going) is defeatism.  So I suppose I just feel like I’m just trying to keep things a balanced.

And then he offers a quote by poet Wallace Stevens: “After the final no there comes a yes / And on that yes the future world depends.”

Chins up!

“I want to be white too”

20 Oct

This afternoon A, Frond, DJSherv and I went to a primary school near by.

We rumbled past lush greenery on a semi-deserted road in DJSherv’s new jeep, turned a corner and there were tons of little knee-high kids running around in twos, threes.  They were each dressed in either all green, all red, or all yellow and were maybe in grade 1 or kindergarten.  It was like a multicoloured ant hill.

On the other side were older kids dressed in long navy blue pleated skirts, white collared short-sleeved blouses and red ties or navy pants and white dress shirts.  These kids were leaning over the railing, yelling, sometimes throwing food, sometimes just chillaxing coolly.

We had came to talk about a new pilot program we are starting.  In light of the diabetes and obesity epidemic on the island (not unlike the one back home, except here you don’t get the meds or the same infrastructure support as home, so it’s not uncommon for young people to lose limbs because of their uncontrolled diabetes), we’re going to come in and help teach some life skills, healthy food choices, on the backdrop of fun physical activities.  Sounds great, right?  Well…

It was great to meet with the principal and tell her what we had planned.  She seemed really supportive.  It was cool to see the field and school grounds, and to be amongst so many kids.  So strange but nice to be surrounded by so many!  While the four of us were standing under the sun discussing how we would run the first session, planned for next week, a pair of grade 2 girls in their pleated dresses giggled their way behind me and were trying to get my attention.  One mouthed “What do you doooo?”.  They wanted to talk to me “behind the trees”, pointing back.  They asked me for candy, then asked me if I had candy on my paper (I was holding a piece of paper with a cartoon carrot on it).  It was cool, it was fun to banter with them a little.

After a few minutes we were ready to head back to campus, and I hopped back into the back of the jeep with the rest of the guys.  The two girls followed us to the back of the car.  One of them was had been something to me as I was walking to the jeep but between child-speak and my inability to completely learn the accent yet, I couldn’t tell what she was saying.  As we were about to back out, DJSherv asked A and I if there were still any kids standing behind the jeep.  We turned and just as she was getting out of the way, the girl who first tried to get my attention said “I want to be white too.”    A and I yelled “Nooooooo!” as DJSherv backed out and we drove away.

“We colonized them!”, A yelled.  Great.  The very last thing we wanted to do.

It’s alarmingly amazing how easy it is to plant the totally wrong impression of cultural superiority in kids this age.  Granted I don’t know if she already felt this way before we visited today, since I’m sure even someone as young as her is really attuned to the class and racial differences she has seen with all the healthy looking, well dressed, blackberry and iPhone carrying “white people” like us walking around, complaining loudly about stupid things, buying tons of expensive foods at the supermarket.  (NB: In terms of ancestry, A and DJSherv are Persian, Frond is Indian, I’m Chinese).

It just underscored how important it is to plan these kinds of things right.  It may have seemed like an appealing extra to have a Grenadian or at least Caribbean volunteer with us at these sessions, but after this girl’s comment, it seems like an essential thing.  We should definitely not continue the program without someone “non-white” there leading it up.  Luckily we have lots of people who we know would be interested.


10 Oct

Frond sent me a link last week about the releasing of 2 American hikers from an Iranian jail after 2 years.  They were held on charges of spying.  The article was really interesting.  It talked about how the hikers were talking about their experience and reflections on their imprisonment.  They said the worst part was the solitary confinement.  But more interestingly, they talked about conversations they had with their guards about politics, imprisonment, and public perceptions of one’s own government.  Their guards talked to them about Guantanamo where prisoners are held without trial, about invasions of other countries, all well known parts of American history (and current).  It was interesting to see one of the first things the hikers were talking about was jailing without trial across the world, particularly by American institutions.

I went to look at the article again (http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/09/26/iran) but the link directs you to the news page on Iran.  The top article has a much different tone than the one the link originally linked to, from a commentary on the unsavory actions of all governments across the world, to a focus strictly on the Iranian government: “How can we forgive the Iranian government when it continues to imprison so many other innocent people.”

Maybe the article was censored, rescinded, maybe deleted.  Maybe moved and I just can’t find it.  But it’s weird, no?

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