This is the best shot I can find of most of the VSO gang at Mark and Sewandi's wedding. Shaun is MIA though.

This is the best shot I can find of most of the VSO gang at Mark and Sewandi’s wedding. Shaun is MIA though.

It seems like forever ago, and yet just like yesterday that we were all sweating together in Sri Lanka – a group of quirky VSO volunteers. We came not knowing what to expect out of Sri Lanka and through all the adventures, we helped each other deal with the perceived insanity. Our collective experience brought us close together despite our differences. Upon departing Sri Lanka, Shaun and I promised we would visit in Summer 2014 . Before we knew it, summer was upon us, many of our VSO friends were back in their respective homelands and we could finally afford to travel to Europe thanks to the art of freeloading.

First up, there are Marjorie and Richard- the quintessential British couple. They speak proper English (Marjorie even flutters her eyes when doing so), love tea and cake and say everything is “brilliant” (but they can’t understand why we say everything is “awesome”). Marjorie and Richard live near the magical land of Hebden Bridge. After a couple years of Marj’s vivid descriptions of the place I expected unicorns, and I must say it didn’t disappoint. Okay, there were no unicorns, but there was the Tour de France passing through and lots of fireworks. Former volunteer Texas Bill also joined in on the festivities, and he is not the quintessential Texan. He did not wear a cowboy hat or bring a concealed weapon to the party.

Then it was off to see Mark and Vindy (aka Sewandi ). Shaun was the best man at their wedding in Sri Lanka and you may recall posts about the big event. The happy couple had just moved into a new flat a few days before and we were their first house guests – a big honour. This meant we were force feed copious amounts of rice and curry. No oil lamp was lit, but this too was a truly auspicious gathering. I only was able to stay the one night but Shaun stayed on and got the star treatment as the couple guided him through many tourist destinations. Mark was prepared as always when they arrived off the first bus to pouring rain and had no umbrellas or rain coats. He did however have 50lbs of books and journals with him!

In the meantime, I was off to Italy to meet, Sonalee and go on a cycle tour of Tuscany. I taught with Sonalee in Sri Lanka, and we became good friends over spin classes and margaritas so it seemed a natural fit to meet for a cycling tour that included vigorous climbs with frequent breaks for cappucino, gelato and/or wine. The scenery was amazing, the weather was hot and the conversations were fantastic.

Shaun met up with me at the end of the cycle trip to hike through some of the most picturesque parts of the Italian Riveria. This was only after hanging out with VSO Beth and Jo for a week. There he was beat in golf, trapped like a beached whale on the shore of Brighton (he couldn’t walk to the others because the beach was too stony and he’d lost his shoes) and called to BBQ duty.  After bragging about his Canadian barbequing expertise and agreeing to cue up a meal for a large party of guests, Shaun met his match as the barbecue used briquettes. The night was saved by an oven and booze – lots of booze.

Next up was Amsterdam, the home of Hans and Els. There we partook in all traditional Dutch customs such as touring windmills, riding bicycles everywhere,  eating piles of BBQ at a Suriname festival and being cheap. Hans and Els tried their best to get us into all the museums for free by giving us their passes. It was going very well until the Van Gogh museum where the lady at the counter foiled our entire plan by asking Shaun his birthday. Shaun couldn’t remember Han’s birthday except that he was born in “the hell of 63″ a reference to a Dutch film we all saw together at the foreign film festival in Colombo (long story). When the counter lady (who didn’t seem to bat an eye that Shaun would be born in 63) asked,”What day sir?” A flustered Shaun replied, “I don’t know,” as we quickly retrieved the cards and slunk away.

London was the next stop. We played the role of the stereotypical tourists snapping selfies in front of key landmarks. A highlight was meeting up with Beth, Jo and Joao at a Sri Lankan restaurant. The restaurant did not disappoint as it provided the authentic Sri Lankan experience. Most of the menu items were not available, the waiter was completely confused by our requests, the room was hot and humid and they had giant cold Lion beers. It was easy to feel like we were right back in Sri Lanka. The atmosphere was complete when Shaun and Beth shared an earlier recording they had made entitled “The Sounds of Sri Lanka”.

We finished up the grand tour back with Kamal and Ed. They are a couple we met in Sri Lanka who now live in Manchester. They were our first stop when we arrived and were our last stop before we flew out. Our time with Kamal and Ed culminated by taking in the production of War Horse. The show was great. We just hope that one day Ed will be able to fulfill his new dream of being a master of life size animal puppetry. Dream big Ed, dream big!

I’ll leave you with a photo montage.

Trina

An August trip of camping, triathlon and watching a Rider game with friends seems blog worthy - why can't I find the words?

An August trip of camping, triathlon and watching a Rider game with friends seems blog worthy – why can’t I find the words?

It’s been a really long time since our last blog, and that’s a shame. It’s a shame because we miss it. How is it that something that was so ingrained in our lives can just disappear? Thanks to an exciting game of “teacher’s versus world” flip cup and a trip visiting family in Calgary (long story), I’ve been missing blogging even more.

So naturally I decided to write a blog all about our summer trip to Europe. Ironically, since it’s been so long since I’ve blogged I forgot that WordPress doesn’t save automatically and I lost the entire post. After an exasperated “AIYO!” and other four letter words, I’ve decided instead to write a list of excuses that have prevented us from blogging since returning in Canada.

1. ” I don’t want to offend anyone”. – You can no longer be as candid or frank. Political correctness simply didn’t exist in Sri Lanka. Stereotyping and over-generalizing were simply a way to better understand the world. As long as all parties could share a laugh and some curry – all was good.

2. “Our lives are too boring now”.- Life in Canada is back to our norm. It is what we’ve always known and sometimes we feel people will find it too boring. Jokes about Regina will only get you so far.

3.”There is no time in the day.”- Entering back into Canadian life has also meant it’s back to Canadian schedules. While I think we are not running as crazily as we used to, long gone are my days of gym, tan and laundry. Not to mention, it’s never hot enough to sip G & T’s which I think aided in the creative process.

4. We have television. – Shaun was the primary author of our blog and his evenings are now dedicated to watching sports on TSN or Netflix.

5. We have iPhones – Those things can be so distracting with continual access to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other time sinks. Just last night I actually witnessed Shaun watching television, listening to a podcast, browsing the internet on his iphone, reading a book and eating a sandwich all at the same time.

6. “I’ve got too much work to do”. – This excuse is usually followed for me by writing lists and then procrastinating. Procrastination techniques include opening the fridge door and hoping a delicious snack will appear,  checking the weather, Facebook, Twitter and local real estate all on my iPhone, and ruminating about all the things I have to do and how there is never enough time. What can I say except that I think I am genetically predisposed to this disorder.

7. “I’ll write about it tomorrow.” – Since the words aren’t quite flowing in the moment – might as well try tomorrow.

8. “It’s too late to write about that now.” – In this age of instant media, I feel as though if we don’t write about an event the instant it happens, it is old news and no one will be interested. It’s gotten to the point where one wonders if it isn’t on social media did it really happen? Can you imagine hundreds of years from now when archeologists unearth this mass of ancient texts known as tweets, hashtags and status updates what they will think?

So now that the excuses are out of the way, I guess I should attempt to rewrite the blog about our Europe trip. . . although the Rider game is on in 3 hours and I should go for a run, go to yoga, write a university paper, get groceries – wait, maybe there is a delicious snack in the fridge.

Trina

True to my New Year's Resolution I decided today to look at the beauty of -40. Your not going to see a sundog in Sri Lanka.

True to my New Year’s Resolution I decided to stop and capture  the beauty of -40. You’re not going to see an ice halo known as a “sundog” in the tropics.

Another year has come and gone. It’s amazing to think that one year ago we were in the Himalaya’s drinking Nepali home brew and dancing around a camp fire with a troupe of super sherpas. This year we stayed a lot closer to home for the holidays. In fact, aside from an extended weekend ski trip to the hills where we discovered that it is still possible to hot tub in -45 degrees, we stayed right at home. It was nice to celebrate with family and friends.

It also was a reminder of just how hectic this time of the year can be. Shaun and I both found ourselves setting guidelines to keep things simple this year. The commercialism and the expectation of perfection can be enough to drive anyone crazy.  Luckily I’ve learned over the years that the key to life is low expectations. If you are disappointed, you simply need to lower your expectations.

That leads me to my rant about New Year’s resolutions.  My resolution is to be less negative. Now this is a lofty goal since I believe resolutions are for chumps. But then again, I’m just going to be less negative not more positive. This is an important distinction as I won’t want to become someone who puts 21 exclamation points in a single Facebook post; that’s just not me.

So here are some ways I believe we all could be less negative.

* In Saskatchewan, in the winter, avoid all conversations having to do with the weather. They are a trap.

*  In the small window of time when the weather becomes warmer, drop everything and get outdoors. Build a snowman, go for a run, snowshoe, ski, toboggan, skate and sleep in an igloo all that very day.

* Move to Kelowna, BC, the magical land where real estate is cheaper and it has been only -1 all week!

* Listen to Ace of Base. If you are of my generation and female, you just can’t feel down when reliving this classic 90s school dance hit.

* See the humour in everything. Believe me it is everywhere. For example, when your dad lends you a calving sleigh to take a couple of Congolese kids sledding for the first time, but first uses it to take a deer carcass to them. Or when you try to explain that a traditional Christmas in your family means ordering Chinese food on Christmas Eve and getting together with your Jewish relatives.

* Watch Toronto Mayor Rob Ford apologize. It never gets old.

Happy 2014!

Trina

Grandpa Manuel and I take a break from the manual labour. How did I get so dirty?

Grandpa Manuel and I take a break from the manual labour. How did I get so dirty? And why is Manuel wearing my hat?

It’s been awhile. There hasn’t been much to write about in the corporate, Canadian world, which is why I decided to go to El Salvador in November for 10 days to volunteer on a Habitat for Humanity build.

I’ll do anything for some blog material.

The truth is the meeting to sign up for the build happened the week I got back from Sri Lanka in March. I saw it as a sign from sweet baby Jeebus and signed up before I had got my first pay cheque.

Needless to say it was an awesome time (as us Canadians always say) and it’s easily been the best decision I’ve made since coming home (the second best decision was buying a Grey Cup ticket, the third was remembering Trina’s birthday).

So, me and 37 other colleagues made the long journey down to San Salvador on November 8, and after a couple days relaxing on the beach, we spent 5 full, sweaty days working on 3 homes for 3 different families. We all paid or fundraised over $2,000 each to get ourselves down there, make a donation to Habitat El Salvador and buy the building material for the houses.

I know, I know. If you enjoy judging others as much as I do, you’re probably asking why we all just didn’t put our money into building houses in inner city Regina where the need is huge for decent homes?

Well, first off, it’s fucking cold in Regina in November, so the 30+ temps looked pretty good (sorry for being selfish). And, second off, I think you’ve got to do both.

For sure we need to take care of our own backyard, but the fact is we don’t live in a bubble anymore. Those days are gone. If you don’t believe me just look around Regina at all the new faces. What happens in Sri Lanka, or El Salvador, will eventually reach us here.  And instead of being surprised or outraged or ignorant when it finally does, why not search for a bit of understanding now, a bit of common ground.

And while I also know that a 10-day Habitat build is a small drop in the bucket, there was nothing small about it for those 3 families. Those three homes will completely transform those people’s lives forever.

On my build we heard the same thing every day from our family: “I can’t believe you came here from your country to help us. You don’t know us. You don’t speak our language, yet you spend your own money and leave your families at home to build us a house. It is unbelievable.”

To me, that says it all. It’s real. It’s simple. It’s human. And, it was great to be a part of.

Where to next?

Shaun

The boys love posing for the camera especially in my sunglasses.

The boys love posing for the camera especially in my sunglasses.

This blog is dedicated to Chantel Johnson who at the most recent Rider game told Shaun that she has read every one of our blogs and thinks we should keep writing even though we’re back in less exciting Regina.

What does it mean to truly be Canadian? It’s interesting that you never really think about that question until you are on the other side of the world or you are trying your best to help a refugee family from the Congo fit in. Since befriending Calvin and Josie, I’ve done more “Canadian traditions” than I’ve ever done before in my life. At the age of 33, I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner. Josie is regularly asking to learn to cook Canadian food so with her by my side I’ve now made homemade pizza, spaghetti, chili, soup, bread and pumpkin pie. On the flip side, she has taught me how to make tilapia and ugali. Next up will be cassava leaves.

We’ve also been trying our best to answer their questions about Canadian society. Sometimes it is just too difficult to be politically correct so we may be guilty of oversimplifying things. Here are some examples:

Example #1

Calvin and his friend Moses (after I have dropped off chocolates and carved a pumpkin with them): Tell us, how did this Halloween thing originate?

Me: Well, people from Europe brought this custom. They used to believe that spirits would come out on Halloween night so to scare them away they would dress as scary things like ghosts and witches.

Calvin: Then why are you dressed in that (referring to my Minion costume)

Me: Now people dress up in fun costumes. We no longer really believe in ghosts. I am a character from a cartoon movie. All the teachers at our school are dressed up the same for today.

Calvin: Oh . . . This is not a very professional way to dress. It is good in Canada that you don’t worry about these things.

Example #2

Calvin: People have been phoning me to offer me a credit card. Who are they?

Shaun: These are evil people who will get you into trouble with money. You must hang up on them. It is not rude ; it is a part of our culture.

Example #3

Me (as I drop something on the floor): Aiyo!

Joel and Jesse: Aiyo! Aiyo!

Calvin: What is the meaning of this?

Me: In Sri Lanka they say this. It means “oh dear”.

Calvin: I like this.

Jesse and Joel continue to throw things on the floor and exclaim “Aiyo!” as we all laugh. It is the one expression the boys have truly embraced.

This is a picture 4 year old Jesse took of his brother Joel and me on a visit to their house. This Congolese refugee family has the everyday in Canada exciting for us. Trying on toques and other winter clothing became an awesome event.

This is a picture 4 year old Jesse took of his brother Joel and me on a visit to their house. This Congolese refugee family has the everyday in Canada  exciting for us once again. We can’t wait to take them tobogganing!

It’s time to blog again.

How do I know this?

Well, there have been a few signs. First, it has been nearly two months since our last blog. Secondly, one of my students said she thought it was cool that I kept a blog and as I get older I have to take all the “coolness” I can get. Thirdly,  I’ve just poured myself a glass of wine. The weather may be different as well as the alcohol of choice but the sentiment is the same; it’s time to write.

“So what has it been like to adjust back to Canadian life?”, you might ask. It’s been fantastic. It’s been really tough. And it’s been everything in between. In other words, it’s been life.

Here are some examples of what I mean.

  • I miss the way Sri Lanka challenged me to think about what lies below the “cultural iceberg “of everyday interactions that I just didn’t understand. Canada still challenges me to think about the world from different viewpoints, but I find myself less forgiving of what have become my own culture’s glaring flaws.
  • The fact that it only taking 15 minutes to get anywhere in the city is fabulous and driving your own car certainly beats the Sri Lankan bus. So why is it that I find myself rushing in the car from one place to another? Why still the overwhelming urge to fit so many things into one day?
  • I really miss “the Sams”. I wish neighbours in Canada were just as receptive to people showing up at their door to chat. Look out Nadine and Mike, we just might stop over for an hour or five unexpectedly.
  • Shaun and I were both super stoked to meet a refugee family from the Congo through the Regina Open Door Society. Calvin, Josie and their two sons , Jesse (4) and Joel (2) have blessed us to see Canada through their eyes. You should have seen their excitement when we brought a bag of winter and fall clothes for the boys to try on. Not to mention the boys’ first time at the public library.  It was hilarious seeing them drink from a water fountain for the first time as well as  running round and round through the automatic doors.
  • I have writers’ block here. It’s not that there isn’t anything to write about; it’s that I’m more afraid of offending people. Political correctness can be so over the top.
  • There are still really big issues in Sri Lanka post civil war so it is difficult to take some of our Canadian issues seriously. For example when trying to explain to Calvin the Regina water referendum he said, “I like water so I will vote yes”. When Shaun and I explained that he would get water either way, he replied, “Then I don’t understand. What is the issue?” *DISCLAIMER: Now that I have offended a ton of people, I’d like to make the following disclaimer. I educated myself about the issues, I voted on Wednesday and I am proud to live in the nation that has the right to vote about such things.*
  • One thing that has definitely followed me back to Canada is paperwork. Thankfully, I still have to fill out forms for every single request I have. Albeit there is one key difference. Bureaucracy in Sri Lanka was all about making things followed the correct hierarchy and in Canada it’s all about protecting yourself from being sued. Some new paper work additions to Regina Public Schools include a form for having an animal or plant visit your classroom, a form for teacher access to student records, a form to transport students, and a form to to get the form for reactivating my medical and dental insurances.  Basically my first month back to work has been spent filling out forms (most of which are PDFs on websites that I have been asked to print out , fill in and mail via post).
  • I’m also pleased to see that the man who installed the door on my classroom is not the same man who installs the doorknob so even though there now is a door we will be waiting for the doorknob for an indefinite amount of time. I guess there is a little Sri Lanka in all of us.

The point is that no matter where in the world I go – there I am. The environment I’m in and the challenges I face each day might be different but how I chose to face them can be the same. I’m going to do my best to keep the temporary, pretend life attitude with me and see the humour in everything.

Trina

If you ever get the chance to go to LA, jump on it. While it’s not a city I’d like to live in, it’s a great place to visit. Around every bend (or crazy freeway) is another pop culture reference or reminder, the weather is fantastic and the people are bat shit crazy – a great combination for fun.

With Trina being home for 17 days, it was to time to get out of Regina again. She was getting stir crazy.

So, along with our pal Schneidz (aka Trevor), at the beginning of August we decided to hit up Los Angeles to see the Blue Jays play (sort of), visit our friends Kristi, JJ and Baby Ezra in Malibu, and drink Original Coors and eat In and Out Burger.

God bless America!

It was a great time. Here are the pics: