Today I met 150 men!

Harvesting

As soon as I saw the large group standing outside the “Services Canada” – I could tell they were Mexican. I also assumed they were recently arrived participants in Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker’s Program (SAWP) – and I was right. SAWP was established in Canada in 1966, but it has only been open in British Columbia since 2004. For many of Mexico’s unemployed farmers, it is a preferable alternative to crossing the Rio Grande.

To say they were surprised to hear me speaking Spanish is an understatement – even after I explained that I had lived full time in Yucatan for more than 40 years, and now I live in Kamloops part time.

“I am from Merida,” one guy called out, “where is your house?” I told him, and a big smile spread across his face. My new amigos wanted me to tell them about “Desert Hills Ranch” – the farm where they would be working. I had never heard of the place, but I assured them it must be big if so many had been hired.

They said they would be given time for shopping after their papers had been processed. I pointed out “Value Village”, a good quality second-hand shop in the next block, and the super market, down one more block. “Come visit us,” they said as we waved goodbye.

Once home, I looked up the SAWP program and I learned that through the SAWP, employers must provide housing for their workers, although sponsors are allowed to charge rent of $5.36 CAD per working day. The workers’ flights to and from Mexico also have to be paid by their employer. On some farms, 3 meals are provided for $12.00 a day. If meals are not prepared for the workers, the employer must provide a cooking facility, equipment, utensils and fuel. Depending on the type of work the workers do, they are paid by the amount they harvest or $10.85 CAD per hour. If they work more than 8 hours, they are paid overtime. Life insurance and health care costs are also covered by the employer.

One worker I spoke with had been in B.C. the four previous years and he said, “There is a lot of clarity about the work that is expected and protection for the guys who come up here.” He emphasized that the contracts are strict, but he has never had any significant problems with the program.

In the ten years since SAWP started in B.C., farm owners have come to rely on the program, to the point that many could not operate without migrant workers from Mexico. The online article quoted a manager, “The workers coming from Mexico are experienced and they’re reliable. It is difficult work and it’s not easy to find a source of workers locally.”

When I googled “Forest Hills Ranch”, I found that the place is a local tourist attraction. It offers fresh produce for sale and special events are staged throughout the year. One reviewer wrote that the restaurant offers the “best tacos outside Mexico”. Obviously the Mexican employees work in the kitchen as well as in the fields.

To me, the SAWP sounds like a well-thought-out program. The most common employee complaint I read against the SAWP is that it does not lead to permanent residency in Canada – the workers cannot stay in the country for longer than 8 months at a time. As well, temporary farm workers are under contract with a single employer and cannot change jobs without the written consent of that employer. While some do move from farm to farm throughout the season, their right to be in Canada is tied to the contract with their sponsor.

My sister and I plan to visit Desert Hills Ranch this summer, or maybe for Fiestas Patrias and again in the fall when the farm has a big Pumpkin Patch festival.  And of course, I want to see how my 150 new amigos are faring!

 

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If you want to visit Desert Hills Ranch, check out the facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Desert-Hills-Ranch-140871702651700/

 

*** Photo credits: All images are from the farm’s website and facebook page.

 

Memories

Many children have a tattered coverlet or a favorite plush toy they carry everywhere. It gives them confidence and comfort.  As we get older, our security blankets are not made of wool or stuffed fleece. When I feel down or insecure, I let my mind drift back to happy times. Sometimes I fall asleep and dream about them.

Dad and me in front of our house
Me with Mom
Me with my grandparents

 

 

 

 

 

My parents

Either way, the memories make me feel better quite quickly.  They are like a patchwork quilt with many colored squares – they come from different periods of my life – but I must say that many of the warmest ones are of the house where I grew up.

My childhood home was a panabode – a cedar log house – built in 1953 by my father and my grandfather.  Both of them were good carpenters and they could also wire and plumb. They knew how to lay shingles on a roof and fasten siding over a foundation. Granddad was a master at grooving hardwood planks together to make a floor.  Mom and Granny varnished the wooden walls, sewed curtains, and they planted roses, dahlias and lilac in the garden.

Fifteen years later the original house could no longer accommodate us all – two additional bedrooms and a family room were added – our house grew with us.

I was 20 when Mom and Dad sold it and moved to Princeton, a town in the interior part of the province. Since then I have driven past the place a few times but I never went inside – until last Tuesday.

***

Serendipity was certainly at work when I met “Cheryl” at Auntie Alice’s knitting retreat on Pender Island. I learned that she and her family live five doors away from my former home and she said she’d try to get an invitation for me to visit. Fortunately the present owner was pleased to oblige.

My childhood home in North Vancouver

The angle of the front stairway felt immediately familiar, and at the top, I pivoted to face the front door – the original front door with its long black hinges and the same “tricky” lock – I couldn’t believe it.

The same “tricky” lock
New glass in the windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The same steps lead downstairs

The coatroom seemed smaller to me, but the living room with its wood burning fireplace looked just the same. Several new skylights are a great addition – they allow lots of sunshine inside. My parents’ bedroom is now a sleek kitchen and my mother’s galley has been repurposed into a pre-teen’s bedroom.

Looking all around, I remembered how my grandfather’s paintings used to decorate many of the walls, and now the present owners’ art works hang in their place.  The backyard has been beautifully landscaped – my mom loved gardening and she would be so pleased to see the way it looks now.

 

 

The dining room and kitchen

 

The back garden

When I went to see the house, I took a floor plan of how it looked when our family lived there. I told a few funny stories from the “good old days”, and I think the family who now own the house enjoyed learning about the history of their home.

Seeing how much they love it created a happy new memory for me, and I know my parents and grandparents would feel gratified to know that the house they built has stood the test of time.

British Columbia’s State of Emergency

Areas where the fire danger is highest

For the past three weeks, I have been in Vancouver and on the Islands, enjoying time with friends and family. However like most residents of British Columbia, at 6 pm I make sure I am close to a TV so I can see the latest news reports about the wild fires burning in the interior of the province.

Evacuees on their way to safety

 

Getting animals out of harm’s way

There have been good days when it looked as though the fire fighters were getting the upper hand. But the forests are tinder dry at this time of year and strong winds propel the embers from established fires, starting new ones every day – 15 yesterday – and today another city was evacuated.  Some of the fires are so huge they have jumped rivers and highways.  Thousands of fire fighters from across Canada are now battling more than 160 fires in BC!

 

                                          Water bombers loading over one of the lakes

Much of the province is relatively out of harm’s way, and these cities and towns are taking in evacuees. One of them is Kamloops, the place where I will be living until December. On a news channel, I saw footage of suburban streets lined with campers and trailers, and tents pitched in front yards – the Kamloops homeowners were shown running power cords out to the stranded families and inviting them use their bathrooms.

Six Kamloops women have joined together to run a temporary donation centre, operating out of the Sandman Signature Hotel. They provide clothing, food and toiletries to those forced to evacuate their homes.

In Kamloops, sorting donations for fire evacuees

One of the women, Dusti Naud, said she and her friends used social media to spread the word. Their friends began dropping off items, and soon local businesses and others – even from outside the province – started donating items. Independent grocers donated 15 pallets of food, and another relief agency dropped off 16 bags of clothing they had collected.

Jamie Maclean, another of the six friends talked about the gift bags that have been personalized for men, women, and families. “The community has been absolutely astonishing with their donations, with their support,” she added.

Hundreds of evacuees have used the donation centre. “It’s open each day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. We’re here for the people that need us,” Maclean said.

I will be returning to Kamloops on Wednesday. I’m happy that I’ll be living in a community where such caring people live.

Silver Linings

Early morning departure from Horseshoe Bay

This week I visited my cousin Donna who lives on Vancouver Island. The scenery on the BC Ferries ride between Horseshoe Bay and Nanaimo is a bargain at 16.50 CAD.  People on Alaska cruises pay thousands of dollars for the same vistas of the Gulf Islands.  I sat inside because on deck it gets too blowy for my liking. However, halfway through the sailing, I wished I’d braved the wind. Excited passengers started scrambling around, extending their arms and pointing fingers – for sure they had spotted an Orca! According to them – one of the whales had breached to the stern, then again on the starboard side of the ship. It is an awesome sight.

Donna waited for me in the arrivals area, and after big hugs, we drove down island to our favorite café in Genoa Bay. While we feasted on the catch of the day, we were entertained by the antics of enormous sea lions barking and jostling for the sunniest spot on the rocks. And at times, we could scarcely hear one another for the racket of gulls swooping overhead – obviously, they expected to be fed lunch on board the fishing boat we saw puttering towards the dock.

At Genoa Bay

I do love to shop, but the clapboard store had a limited selection and neither the fishing lures nor the canned corn beef called my name. We spent a bit more time strolling along the beach, and then drove to Donna’s new house in Duncan. She moved in the same day I arrived in Canada, and I felt special to be her first overnight guest.  On the way, I read a handmade sign: SLOW DOWN – BABY DEER ON THE ROAD. Donna did take the next turn slowly, yet she had to brake hard when a fawn skidded down the bank and tumbled onto the asphalt. My breathing stopped until he righted himself and scooted back into the woods. A few minutes later, I spotted an American eagle with a wingspan of at least two meters circling above the forest. From Donna’s deck, we had the day’s final “fauna sighting” – a rabbit jumping along the retaining wall above the lawn.

“Primadonna” and I talked non-stop through the afternoon and evening – we never run out of things to say.

Thursday morning, Auntie Alice and my cousin Dani arrived at 9:30 for a drive up island. Again – more deer, eagles, and a black shape disappearing through the cedars that was surely a bear.  Vancouver Island is like Wild Kingdom!

The landscape is obviously different in Canada and Mexico, but punctuality is another distinction.  For my return to the mainland, I got to the ticket wicket for the 3:15 ferry departure, at 2:58. “You just made it,” the attendant told me. “Passengers must be here 15 minutes before the scheduled departure. If you’d arrived just 2 minutes later, I would not have been able to sell you a place on the next sailing.” Sure enough, as I scurried to the gate, the metal gate clunked behind me. I felt grateful. Had Dani hit one more red light during our race to the terminal, I would have been standing on the other side of the barricade, watching the boat pull away from its berth.

I dozed and listened to Leonard Cohen all the way back across the water, and when we landed, I hurried to catch the bus to North Vancouver.  We made good time until the transfer point and then accidents on two bridges caused a gridlock. I had to wait an hour and a half before my bus came by.   For the punctual Vancouverites this caused major aggravation. But for me, the inconvenience had a silver lining. There were lots of Latins in the crowd and I got to speak Spanish for the first time in a month. ¡Que felicidad!

The bus finally came after 1 1/2 hours, but it was crowded!

 

My Tale of Two Booties

We see change and contrasts all around us.  And since arriving in Canada, this has been constant for me. The flowers and trees, food and drink, the clothing, entertainment – everything is different to what I am used to.

But transformation and changes keep us on our toes.

Now, speaking of toes…mine will be having a variety of different experiences over the next six months. For now, my sassy Merida sandals are the popular choice. My red polished toes enjoy the cool breezes. However, looking ahead, I decided I’d be wise to prepare for the inevitable, and when I saw these “Black Beauties” on the sale rack, I snatched them up. I think they are just as funky as the glittery sandals, but they sure feel different. They are the first pair of boots I’ve bought in decades. They are sturdy and roomy, they have a good tread and I can wear at least two pairs of warm woolen socks to keep my tootsies from freezing. My feet will like tacos!

As my friend Mary pointed out, this is just one of the accommodations I’ll have to make when the weather gets cooler. She says my tailored leather blazer is not going to be nearly warm enough. I’ll let you have a peek at me in my parka when I purchase one.

For several years the changes staring at me from the mirror have been worrying. More weight, more wrinkles and more sun damage have made me cringe – but I have avoided doing much about the results of too many delicious meals and too little sunscreen.

I find my latest footwear purchase is a good simile for the shift in my thinking. Black rubber boots don’t sound nearly as appealing as strappy gold sandals, but I thought ahead and have a couple of funky, fun “friends” to help me through the weather that’s waiting in the wings. And cutting back on my carbs and revving up my exercise are the allies to help me effect the physical makeover that needs to happen.

Change is the only constant in our lives… Gotta’ zip up my boots and jump on board!

The day after…

 

The Canadian flag – made up of Canadians

I have lived most of my life in Mexico, where outpourings of love for country are common. On festive days, music blares, tequila flows and food is consumed with absolutely no concern for the heart’s arteries. All ages dress up in crazy costumes and silly hats, hugs and kisses for everyone – I love it!

Canadians are known for wearing maple leaf lapel pins and flying their flag on the front lawn. In the spirit of solidarity, they are fiercely devoted to their own musicians, celebrities, and Tim Hortons. They can get worked up at hockey games, but otherwise, Canadians are as prudent as their politics.

Not yesterday though! To celebrate Canada 150, I saw a fun-loving, collective show of patriotism such as I never imagined could take place in this country. The same funky clothing and headgear (but red & white, not tricolor), loud music, uninhibited dancing and fireworks all along the horizon – I had such a great day!

Canadians of all ages enjoyed the party

 

Canadians of all backgrounds too…

 

The RCMP in my home town of North Vancouver saluted the country from the Capilano Suspension Bridge

 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – “This is Canada… this is home!”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CANADA

Today’s table centerpiece

Today is Canada’s 150th Birthday

At some point during every one of my Canadian parochial school years, we studied the history of the “birth of our nation”. However, the facts have grown a little fuzzy over the ensuing years, and today, on the 150th anniversary of the confederation of Canada, I took a walk through Wikipedia and refreshed my memory.

The name, “Canada” comes from the Iroquoi language and means settlement, village, or land. The French used it first in the 16th Century for a colony they established along the St. Lawrence River and the northern shores of f the Great Lakes.

In 1791, the French colony of Canada and other French colonies became British colonies, called Upper Canada and Lower Canada.

In 1841 these two were joined and became known as the British Province of Canada.

On July 1, 1867 the British North American provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Canada united and became the Dominion of Canada. We commonly call this “the birth of Canada” or “Confederation”. This event marked the beginning of more than a century of progress toward independence from the United Kingdom.

Confederation created Canada’s first four provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec. The other provinces and territories entered Confederation later: Manitoba and the Northwest Territories in 1870, British Columbia in 1871, Prince Edward Island in 1873, Yukon in 1898, Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905, Newfoundland in 1949 (renamed Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001) and Nunavut in 1999.

I have lived away from Canada for 41 years. I have been happy in Mexico and I believe I adapted well to the language, customs and culture. But I suppose “we are who we are”. Childhood leaves an indelible mark, and my identity has remained Canadian.

I will now be living in Canada for six months each year. When I entered the country three weeks ago, I worried that my motivation would be questioned and for sure, I thought my bags would be thoroughly searched. None of that happened. When I told the Immigration officer I wanted to re-establish my residency, he smiled and said, “Welcome home!” He stepped out of his booth and walked me over to Customs. “This lady is a returning Canadian,” he told his colleague. “Oh that’s great,” she said, stamped my declaration, and I was on my way out through the sliding glass doors and into the waiting arms of my sister.

Today I will wear red and white, pin my maple leaf broach onto my lapel, and I’ll watch the fireworks at Rocky Point Park with my long-time friend Mary.

In Merida, my husband and children will get together with friends and have a barbeque to mark the occasion.  I am not with my family today, but my love of Canada is a part of them.

Canada is not the only great country in the world, but it is certainly one of them. I am proud to call myself a Canadian.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CANADA!

Knitting on Island Time

 

View of the Salish Sea

In British Columbia, the light lingers until late at this time of year. In fact, last night when I tucked into bed slightly after 11 pm, I could still see well enough to make out a small skiff sailing towards the harbor. It reminded me of a teenager sneaking in through his bedroom window – long after curfew.

I am on Pender Island at a knitting retreat. Yes – a knitting retreat. No – I do not knit.

The house I share with 15 others is perched high on a precarious-looking bluff. I tread carefully around the edges of the property – I am scared of plummeting down the craggy chasm – but photographing the view is worth some degree of risk. The Salish Sea swirling through evergreen Gulf islands – and on the eastern horizon, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington – must be one of the world’s most stunning panoramas.

Sailing the Salish Sea with Mount Baker in the background

My aunt is the coordinator of the “Knitting on Island Time Knitters’ Retreat”. That’s right – Auntie Alice who many of my Merida friends have gotten to know over the years

She founded the annual event 17 years ago, and now her daughter, Dani is her energetic accomplice.  Christian Bock is the chef whose delicious entrees and baking are probably putting a pound a day onto my hips. He is a family friend from Freiburg, Germany where my grandfather attended university at the turn of the 20th century.

The Knitters’ Circle

At the retreat, I knew I’d see my friend Marianne who lives around the corner from our college in Merida. But what a surprise to meet Leslie from Alberta – she and I have a mutual friend who also lives in Yucatan. Then there’s Cheryl, another of the participants – she lives in my old North Vancouver neighborhood – just five houses away from where I grew up. Talk about six degrees of separation.

Before I came to Pender Island, I wondered why on earth a group of women who knit would travel such a distance to spend a week with one another. Besides the ones from Mexico, Alberta and BC, there are women here from Oklahoma, Alaska, Washington, and California – they have knitting in common – how much can there be to talk about?

Well, after four days, I no longer ask that question. It turns out that knitting is much more complex than I imagined. There are special wools, yarns, fibers, needles, hooks, and spindles used for each type of knitting. The women discuss these topics for hours on end. Some of the participants even spin their own yarn. They happily spend all day discussing the merits, attributes, and foibles of their craft.

In an effort to help me understand the complexities of knitting, Cheryl lent me a book – “The Knitting Goddess” by Deborah Bergman – I was hooked when I read the first lines on the inside of the dust jacket:

Beautiful knitting begins with beautiful stories.

And at that moment, I understood. I realized that story telling is at the heart of knitting. As the women talk about their experiences with various materials and patterns – secrets unfurl and wisdom is shared. And they knit this into every one of the sweaters, scarves, socks, pot holders, baby blankets or whatever they create. Each piece is unique – it can be anything from warm and fuzzy to coarse and scratchy. Just like stories.

Knitting seems to promote gentleness and peace. It fosters communication and understanding. It appears that these knitters are onto something – maybe our world’s  “leaders” need to take up knitting?

Musing and Moving

Friday, two weeks ago, I sat in the middle of my bedroom floor, surrounded by piles of clothing, books, art supplies, cosmetics and documents.  What would I need most during my six months away from Merida? Of course I had a vague idea of what my daily activities would be, and what the weather would be like – but still – nothing felt sure.

Friday, a week ago, Jorge and I visited Mexico City’s Soumaya Museum – a collection of art and culture, created by gifted artists throughout the centuries. Earlier in the week we had seen the Convent of San Jerome – the cloister where Sor Juana Ines dela Cruz wrote some of the most timeless literature of the XVII Century. We also made a trip to the Dolores Olmedo Museum, which houses works by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. I felt overwhelmed by so much accomplishment.

This Friday, I have my back propped up against the outside wall of my sister’s cabin at Allison Lake. I can see a path that I know winds and climbs all the way around the lake.

Friday, a week from now – I will be on Pender Island at a knitting retreat – and I don’t even knit!

I seem to spend much of my time musing – about the past, where I am right now, and about the future – maybe I should just let go of all the wondering? Maybe I should get moving?

Time to close up my computer,  lace up my runners – and hit the trail around the lake.

More to come!

Credit: Painting by Chris Sampson

Kamloops

           The view from my bedroom window

Hello Everyone!

I only had time to post once while Jorge and I were in Mexico City, and I hope this first post from Canada finds you well – wherever you are. I’m waking up in Kamloops – it’s not even 5 am, and already fully light outside.

I know I’m going to enjoy this space that my sister and brother-in-law have lent to me. The steep flight of 18 worn, wooden steps up to the apartment brought back memories of Amsterdam! But after Barb and I lugged up my two 50 pound suitcases and several bags of groceries, I realized the climb was not at all difficult.

The dining / living room, a kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom (with a claw-foot tub) take up the whole top floor of a 1930s vintage house – so I have quite a bit of space to ramble around. The peaked ceilings and irregularly-shaped rooms are charming. My two tall bedroom windows face north-west, so I have a view that fans over the town’s rooftops, and out towards the sage-colored hills. There is a lot of bird song. The temperature is cool and dry.

I live right in town so I have easy access to the shops, library, and community center.  Just down the hill, there’s a beautiful river path, and a bit later on today, I plan to go for my first walk there.

Writing and painting will be a focus for me over the next few months, and of course, I’ll have lots of sister time with Barb. We will both love this.

My Merida cell phone seems to be working well, and so I am able to talk with everyone back home. Skype, Whatsap and Facetime are other good options for staying in touch.

I must say, I feel a bit like a fish out of water. I have lived in Yucatan for most of my adult life, so this is a huge change. But as my good friend Jose says – We move slowly.