Sunday, 28 July 2013

Us on the Bus

It's been a few weeks since I've posted anything.  I think it's because now that I've settled into a familiar routine, things don't seem so interesting to me anymore.  It's funny, because some of the things I wrote about the life in Botswana were pretty routine and mundane (my daily commute, for instance)  -- but because they were new to me, they seemed interesting at the time and worthy of sharing through a blog post. 

Who knows ? Maybe someone out there in cyberspace has a slightly different perspective than me and would like to know about the daily commute of a downtown Edmonton office worker -- so here goes nothing....

In Gaborone, I lived close enough to work to justify a morning walk to the office.  It was one of the highlights of my day -- the opportunity to think through the tasks ahead while passing by friendly faces, sweet smells, and feeling the sun warm my face.

In Edmonton, I live too far from the office to consider walking to work.  Even if I did live closer, I might be detered from a walk by our mostly wintery climate.  I am not a fan of driving at the best of times, and parking downtown is very expensive, so I take the bus.  

It's not so bad, really.  The entire commute takes about 50 minutes, which, ironically, was the same time it took me to walk to work in Gaborone.

I have a community of neighbours who take the 118 Jasper Place bus.  There are about 6 of us who catch the bus before it leaves Rio Terrace for Meadowlark and Jasper Place, where it transforms into the 120 Downtown route.

We call ourselves "Us on the Bus".

First, there is my across the street neighbour, John.  John catches the bus at the same stop as me, and is with me for the entire commute.  He not only lives across the street from me, but he also works across the street from me.  John is probably one of the friendliest and most upbeat people I know.  His early morning good nature can be a bit hard to take for an introvert like me who values her time alone in thought, but I read somewhere that happy neighbours are good for your health.  I have to remind myself of that from time to time when I feel a dismissive response to his comments or questions coming on.  I do miss him when he is not on the bus.

The next to join us is Duncan.  I don't know what Duncan does, but I do know that he recently returned from a trip to Italy and that he is facing similar issues as me with basement flooding (sigh). We have bonded over the sharing of prevention and repair tips.

At the next stop, we are joined by the stylish and studious couple, Bob and Sylvia.  I only recently started getting friendly with them, as they would poke their noses in books and newspapers as soon as they got settled in their seats.  I didn't want to disturb them, knowing they must value their quiet time and space as much as I do.  For the longest time, I tried to guess what they did for a living.  I figured they worked in media, and imagined them running a communications firm that provides news clippings and summaries for businesses and government offices.  I was close -- they do work in media !  Bob is a reporter and Sylvia is an editor.

Finally, we see Ken.  Ken is a neighbourhood icon.  He is a dignified, well dressed, and cordial gentleman.  I figure he must be close to 90 years old now.  He owns a menswear and tailoring shop downtown.  His shop makes the robes for judges and lawyers.  I am not sure why he still works, but seeing him on the bus every day is reassuring -- a gentle reminder that all is well in the world. 

Monday, 10 June 2013

Spring Cleaning

When I moved to Botswana, I stored most of my personal effects at my father's house -- the house I grew up in. 

Prior to leaving, I spent many weekends at Dad's house sorting through some of my late mother's things.  I didn't get through it all.  Some processes take time, especially when they evoke memories. 

My father lived for all that time, navigating around my things and my mother's things.  A couple of times when we were speaking on Skype, he talked about donating some old clothing and other items to the many charities knocking at his door.  I asked him to please wait until I returned. I wanted to make sure we didn't give away anything of measurable or sentimental value. 

Of course, I am likely the most sentimental one in the family about some things.  I realized that when I looked through the contents of my old childhood bedroom closet.  I kept school books from the first grade onward, newspaper articles, plus some cherished toys.  You see, I was going to become a famous author, and some day, someone was going to need articles from my childhood for the "Stephanie Bishop Museum".  My followers would want to see what influenced and shaped my worldview, right?  What can I say?

When Dad recently expressed an interest in moving to a retirement home in Ontario to be closer to my brother and the grandkids, I knew the time had come to take stock of the household inventory.  I didn't want the daunting task of clearing out and packing up a house to hinder his move, if and when the time comes.

We figured that even if he doesn't move soon, we would still need to clear out the things he no longer needs or uses -- things that are just getting in his way and could better serve their intended purposes with others. 

Afterall, he is now one person, living in house outfitted for a family of four, with odds and ends that had accumulated over close to forty years.  

Knowing it would take too long to tackle this task on our own, we decided to call in the pros.  Yes, we hired a professional organizer to help us make the tough choices about what to keep and what to send away. We hired, Anita, The Clutter Helper, for her experience working with seniors.

We undertook this process over the course of five days, sending heaps of once loved goods for donation and recycling.  We also took advantage of Anita's services to set up a new filing system to help my dad manage the mountains of paper that come to the house.

The task is now done, and I hope the house will now be a little more liveable for my dad.

Anita, The Clutter Helper, taking away a load of donations.

The garage as a staging ground for charitable donations and eco-centre contributions.
Clearing out my childhood bedroom. 

Of course, some things just had to be saved !

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Rue Sansregret: Full Circle

I attended a debriefing session for recently returned Uniterra volunteers in Montreal. It was an opportunity to discuss and share experiences and give program related feedback to the Uniterra team.

I was in the company of those who recently returned from placements in Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Bolivia, Peru, Senegal, Ghana, and Malawi.  I was the only one there who had been placed in Botswana. 

While we had a range of experiences, we agreed on one thing:  when you experience life in another country or culture, you do so on the tips of your toes -- making everything you see, do, hear, feel, and yes, even smell, that much more vivid and intense. 

I stayed, once again, at the gîte (bed and breakfast) down the street from Rue Sansregret -- the street (alley) I happened upon one mild November evening when I was in Montreal for my pre-orientation.  If you recall from my very first post, I noticed the sign when I was startled by a clown.  To me, it was more than a street sign. It was a sign that beckoned me to take a detour from my regular life to explore an unfamiliar territory.  Sometimes, when you reach life's crossroads, there is no parking allowed. Sometimes, you just have to choose one direction over another...
...without any regrets. 
I am so glad I took the path down  Rue Sansregret. 
Like the graffiti painted on the alley walls, it was a fun and colourful journey !

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

My hands are small...

My hands are small, I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
We are never broken
We are God's eyes.  God's mind.  God's Heart. 
We are God's hands.

My nephew, Henry Robert William Bishop, came into this world Saturday, May 11 at 25 weeks gestation, and weighing 850 grams.  He is in the care of the NICU staff at McMaster University Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario, steps away from his daddy's lab.  Russ and Kari will be frequent visitors at Henry's bedside in the weeks and months ahead.  You are in good hands, Henry.
Love, Aunt Stephanie

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

...And Then Some !

My Aunt Eleanor was a true inspiration to all of us. 

She was the eldest of 5 siblings, raised in Montreal, Quebec.  My father describes her as an "ice-breaker" who cleared the waters for her younger siblings.  She challenged convention and tradition to make life a little easier for those following along behind her. 

Aunt Eleanor had a war-time romance with a young Australian airman.  They married and settled in Australia, where they raised three children and a lot of chickens. 

My father was 13 years old when his eldest sister left Canada.  Aunt Eleanor remembered a gift he sent to her -- a glass perfume atomizer -- with a note proudly stating, "I paid for this with my own money."

Apart from a brief reunion when Aunt Eleanor returned to Canada for a visit in the 1980's, they hadn't spent any time together as adults.

In October of 2011, I took my then 80 year old father to Austrailia to visit his sister.  It had been his dream to visit her for many years, but the timing was never quite right. 

We crossed the ocean and made the trek to Far North Queensland, driving up the winding ocean road from Cairns, past sugar cane plantations, to the peaceful village of Wonga Beach. 

It was a touching reunion, with short daily visits, a trip to a nearby animal sanctuary, and the reliving of fond memories over copious cups of tea.  Aunt Eleanor said she had always wondered what kind of man the sweet little boy she once knew had become.  I think she was pleased with the outcome.

On our first visit, we found Aunt Eleanor working on a university paper at her desk.  The paper she was preparing was for a creative and professional writing unit.  Her eyes sparkled as she described the character development and plot turns of her story, a tale about a young university student. 

Aunt Eleanor was at the top of her class as a student in Montreal.  She had been offered a university scholarship, but was a little ahead of her time.  In the late 1930's Montreal, a young woman was expected to work or raise a family. 

At the age of 89, she started working towards a bachelor of arts degree in ancient and modern history -- proving it is never too late to pursue your dreams.  She did this through distance education courses, and had to first become proficient in computers and online research methods.  Aunt Eleanor soon gained recognition as the eldest university student in Australia.

Along with her research skills, her writing skills blossomed.  She won several awards for her poetry.

Aunt Eleanor shared a copy of her memoirs, called, "My Twentieth Century".  At the time of our visit, she was working on editing the sequel, called, "...And Then Some".

On our last day visiting with Aunt Eleanor, my dad gave her a pretty little glass perfume bottle we picked up in Port Douglas, along with a card saying, "I paid for this with my own money."  She was delighted.

My Aunt Eleanor passed away on Monday, April 22, at the age of 95. 

She will be fondly remembered and dearly missed by us all....And Then Some !

Brother and Sister Reunion, October, 2011.

My famous Aunt, 2012.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Celebrating winter, friendships, and birthdays

I have been back in Edmonton about 6 weeks now, and have managed to spend three weekends on out of town excursions with friends. 

I posted an item earlier about my weekend to Jasper with Lisa and Louie.  It seems the lure of the mountains was strong enough to draw me back for another weekend at the Jasper Park Lodge -- this time with Lorraine and Bin, with whom I celebrated Bin's birthday, my birthday, and the Easter long weekend.

I also caught up with Roxanne, Diane, and Andrea on a girls' spa weekend escape to Red Deer, where we stayed at a guest ranch and celebrated Roxy's milestone birthday (I won't say which one !). 

Here is some evidence of our shenanigans !

Birthday girl stoking the fire.
Flannel pjs, a blazing fire, a hot beverage, and the company of giggly friends
-- what a way to spend a wintery weekend!
Karaoke Queens.
I got high score with Karma Chameleon. 
The deer did pretty well, too.

Sparkly evidence of our trip to the spa !

We woke up the next morning to find beautiful horses staring through our kitchen window. 
Our hosts were away at Cowboy Church.  Uh huh - there is actually a church for cowboys !
Saying hello to our new neigh-bours.


The artist at work ! - Painting Easter Eggs at Jasper Park Lodge.

Was it weird that we were the only people there without kids, and managed to make the most mess ? Heck, no ! 
Do you like my earth-after-global-warming egg ?
Lorraine's tulip egg.

Exploring the frozen floor of Maligne Canyon.

Other worldly !

Entering an ice cave, beneath a frozen waterfall.  How cool is that ?!

Looking out from inside the ice cave.

Yup - they actually climbed this.

A sign that spring is on the way.

Beautiful Lac Beauvert.

Fancy birthday dinner.

Fine food, wine, and friends -- What more could a girl want on her birthday ?

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Motho Ke Motho Ka Botho

I will be presenting tomorrow to my colleagues in Health Canada on some of my learnings from my year volunteering in Botswana.  I did a trial run with my small work team last week, and am excited to share my experiences with a broader audience. 

There is a saying in Setswana, "Motho Ke Motho Ka Botho" that roughly means "you are what you are because of other people", and I want to acknowledge that I was able to experience all that I did in Botswana because of the people here who allowed me to do so, by granting me a leave and covering my workload.  This is my way of saying, "Look what I was able to learn and achieve because of your support"...and to demonstrate that I did more on my year away than have pool parties and go on safari -- haha !

I will be presenting again next week to the Edmonton Branch of the United Nations Association in Canada, and again in May, to the Health Canada Human Resources Team.  Each presentation gives me a chance to focus on a different angle of my work in Botswana.

I am curious to know what kinds of questions people will have !