Does this remind you of anyone you know?

For some reason, some time ago… you started to consider a move to Mexico. But you have no idea why. You can’t find the words to explain it to yourself, let alone to other people. For a long while you don’t even try. It’s your fantasy world.

But after getting used to the idea, you start taking baby steps into your dream world. You watch Home Hunters International episodes until you’ve memorised the dialogue. You hit on Mexico real estate websites until the listings’ lingo seems familiar… fixer-upper in trendy area… move-in-today condition… recently renovated colonial… close-to-the-beach… right in Centro… You read about others’ experiences living in Mexico by following a blog or two. Next you join a Facebook group, and then another, and another. You buy a couple of books and watch movies about “Mexican life”. It feels so intriguing, exciting, invigorating …

But it gets scary when you read reports about narco violence, police corruption, real estate rip-offs, political wrong-doing, poor customer service, poor internet connections, endless bureaucracy, serious tummy trouble, and more.

But in all fairness, you contrast this information with the smiling images you see posted online. You start making allowances for the negative stuff that happens south of the border, and remind yourself that unsavory characters lurk in the shadows of your home town too. As for political wrongdoing… those who live in glass houses…

Nonetheless, you have never lived in a place where you don’t understand the language, the laws, the day-to-day customs. If anything terrifying actually happened, you doubt your coping skills would be up to the task. But your fascination doesn’t go away. There is so much beauty in Mexico. The country is seducing you… and sometimes you cry because you want to be there. You can’t dismiss your obsession, so you take the next BIG step… you share your hopes and dreams with few close family members and friends. Before long you’ve also mentioned this to the barista at your local café, the waiter at the Mexican restaurant you’ve started going to, people sitting next to you in line at the doctor’s office…

Maybe one of them will be able to help you sort through your conflicting feelings?

Reactions are mixed. Really mixed… But generally speaking, the younger bunch tend to see moving to Mexico as an adventure, and they tell you to be sure to rent or buy a house with a pool, because they’ll visit you. The people about your age and older, caution you. They warn that this would be a foolhardy move. “You read the papers and watch News TV. You’ll be setting yourself up for major danger, not to mention financial setbacks when you have to come back.”

Whose advice do you follow?

Bottom line: You so-o-o-o need a new “kick at the can”. You are positive that you don’t want to spend the rest of your life as a boring old dude or dudette. You want to wake up to warmer weather every morning. You want to see rich colourful scenery, not beige landscapes. You want music around you and to hear children’s voices. You want to spice up your food. And your life.

So you go for it. You register at the Mexican consulate. You sell your house, disperse the belongings you can stand parting with, you give up your car, and arrange to ship or carry whatever you feel must accompany you.

This is your journey of the heart, a leap of faith, a step into the unknown, this is really happening…  YOU ARE MOVING TO MEXICO.

You feel your fate is sealed. There’s no turning back. Yea Gods… what have you done?

You settle down and wait out the final days. You don’t share your worries with anyone. You glibly talk about all that is to come as though you’ve got a handle on it. Absolutely.

D-Day arrives (Departure Day, not the other D-Day… although you could draw some parallels, couldn’t you?)  You board the plane, or pull your jam-packed vehicle into the south-bound lanes of the freeway… and you’re off.

What happens next? You take a deep breath… You know that’s up to you.

Remembrance Day

Each year on November 11th, nothing can keep us from our memories.

Growing up in North Vancouver during the 50s and 60s, we children were taught to respect and honour heroes. Of all the admirable ones around us, none were considered more courageous than the WWI and WWII veterans. My dad, John, and his brother, Lewis – my mom’s 3 brothers, Douglas, John and Bill – and Auntie Chris (who was also Uncle Lewis’ war bride) – all saw active service in Europe for six long years.

For most of WWII, Mom was still a student at Queen Margaret’s School. She and her family, who lived in Canada – an ocean away from the fighting – practised rationing so that the troops could receive more food. She rolled bandages, knit socks and wrote letters to cheer up her brothers as well as lonely recruits.  

My dad returned from six years of brutal fighting with “shell shock”, a condition we now call post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) He was only 19 years old when he shipped out and not quite 25 when he returned to Canada. Afterwards, he said that he would dissuade anyone from going to war. He didn’t believe it was the answer to disagreements between nations. Attending the Veterans’ Day parade wasn’t an activity our family took part in.

Dad belonged to a division of the Royal Canadian Engineering Corp that took part in the Liberation of Amsterdam, his father’s birth place. He knew that one of his cousins, an artist named Gisele, lived in the city and he wanted to meet her. He did in fact do so – in the living room of her small flat – surrounded by the Jewish friends she’d hidden during the entire Nazi occupation. He and the army buddy who went with him to his cousin’s home could hardly believe how terribly underweight and weak they all were. “No one weighed more than 80 pounds,” Dad said. The two Canadian soldiers returned to their base and “liberated” food and other supplies from the Division’s larder. Aunt Gisele later told me that those provisions saved her group from starvation.

After their brief time together in Amsterdam, the cousins never met again. But they exchanged letters for many years.

Sometimes Dad would compare the nightly news stories about Vietnam with his experience during WWII. My city, Vancouver, had become home to an unknown number of “draft dodgers”. Dad always encouraged me to be kind to any homesick guys I met. “I know they are missing their families more than anything and you should bring them home for supper whenever you think it will help,” he said. He too met a large number of these confused young men at his work place. At the time he was personnel manager for Seaspan International at the Vancouver Shipyards. He couldn’t give those boys a job without proper paperwork, but they always got lunch or dinner with dad, and he would allow them to use his office line or our home phone to call their parents.

My dad died young. After the funeral Mom gave me some of the letters he exchanged with Gisele, and I carried on correspondence with her. Finally we met in 2003. Her curiosity and generosity, her art and the friendship she and Dad shared, deeply impressed me. So much so, that I wrote a book about Gisele and her bond with my father, the man she called, my tall Canadian Liberator.

I smiled the first time I heard Gisele describe my dad that way – he was 5 foot 6 – but height is not the only feature that can cause a man to be called, “tall”. Conversations with Gisele – and my own loving memories – helped me to understand that he indeed fit all of them. The sacrifice asked of him was a “tall order”. He could tell a “tall tale”. He always “rode tall in the saddle”. And when it came to character, my father “stood tall”.

Today I honour John Robert van der Gracht. I feel grateful for his brave service, but I also hope we will learn to resolve our differences with compassion and tolerance, instead of guns.

YEAH FOR PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN

First off, I am not an American citizen, but my life and well-being have been negatively impacted by the Trump presidency. Many Americans do not realise that the USA’s policies on everything affect the whole world. So this is why so many of us non-Americans have felt such a vested interest in the outcome of American presidential election.

Secondly, a great many of my friends are Americans and it has pained me to see how unhappy and embarrassed they have felt over the past four years. Their president made many of them say they are ashamed to be United States citizens. How sad is that?

Never has the familiar phrase, “United we stand, divided we fall” been more painfully illustrated than during the past four years. The Trump presidency created more separation in the United States of America than anyone else during any period in my memory. Now, we have HOPE that the new president will right many of the wrongs… and the list is long.

By backing out of long-standing international accords, Trump drove wedges between the USA and its traditional allies.

Trump’s divisive rhetoric caused rifts between family members. I have several friends whose siblings are not speaking to them because they did not blindly follow Trump. I have been told of one case, where a mother has disowned her daughter.   

On one hand he swore to defend the workers but in fact he repeatedly betrayed them by allowing corporations to cut back on-the-job protection, fair pay and benefits. His policies made it harder for workers to have health insurance, to save for retirement, and have access to training programs. Under Trump workers had less of a voice in their workplace, and minorities were more discriminated against.

The environment took blow after blow from his “squander-now” policies.

The drug trade, human trafficking, illegal organ harvesting, gun escalation and the harbouring of criminals. All this is too unsavoury to contemplate, but even a single internet search will show how stats for these heinous crimes soared through the roof during the past four years.

Trump immigration policies destroyed minority communities and can we even bear to think about the children who have been separated from their families? When the parents could not be located he had the gall to say – Guess what those mothers and fathers don’t want their kids back – in reality, few refugees have addresses.

The brazenness he demonstrated is appalling. He openly snarled and dismissed all those he considers his inferiors.

Trump’s “tremendous” mishandling of the Corona virus pandemic is responsible for 100s of thousands of deaths in the USA

Trump incited hatred between racial groups. Remember when during the first debate he told those Proud Boys, Stand down, but stand by. People of colour have never been angrier, and with more justified reasons.

Trump insulted, multiple times, the leadership and citizens of the USA’s northern and southern neighbours with the insidious wall, unethical trade practises, and more. He was the most powerful man in the world – but he never understood, that with power comes responsibility. He was a bully.

His attitude of scorn towards women is obvious not only in the press accounts, but also by the way he treats his wife. She may be many things but no one deserves such disdainful behaviour from Hubby.

His questionable business and investment dealings are legend, before and during the presidency.

And how about the way he toodles off to play golf whenever he gets too stressed-out. And even today when he knew Biden would be confirmed as the winner of the presidency. What a user. What a loser.

I could go on and on, but to me the two worst things Trump did are:

He subliminally urged his constituents to allow their base insecurities, prejudices, and fears to rule their behaviour. He “showed” them it’s OK to turn a blind eye to the negativity and cruelty that surrounds us. When he says, America First – he means ME first – hardly the Christian values he espouses.

Secondly, he used his Svengali personality to trick nearly half the US voters into choosing him. I am GRATEFUL to slightly more than half the voting population who did not get sucked in.

I know I will still be looking at his offensive, bloated mug for a while longer. He has once again insulted the highest office of his country with his boorish, ill-mannered behaviour. He claims he will not leave the White House. This idiocy makes him look like even a bigger fool.

I cannot wait until he is yesterday’s bad news. I hope that all Americans will soon be able to put him out of their minds, and that they’ll all try to erase the stain he has left behind, and truly make America a great and prosperous country for all..

Trump Baby – you have been DISMISSED – FIRED – LET GO – forever !