Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Travels in Madagascar



"Moramora". Malagasy for "slowly, slowly".

Not only am I happy to hear this oft-repeated mantra reminding me to travel mindfully in this enchanted land, but why in the world would I not want to savour each minute of this astonishing place?










Baobab trees and lemurs are among the first indicators that Madagascar is home to unique and dazzling creatures.

As roosters crow and the sun begins to rise, I am not the only one to be swept away by the sight of emerging giant silhouettes. These dogs too appear to be inspired by the sublime beauty of Baobabs at daybreak.

                             

In the Indian Ocean off the coast of Mozambique in south eastern Africa, the country of Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island. While humans began their gradual spread across the planet from Africa 80,000 years ago, Madagascar - just 400 kilometers away - has only been populated a mere two thousand years. World civilizations arose and vanished over the millennia while life on Madagascar evolved in its own unique way. Indeed eighty percent of all living things in Madagascar today are to be found only in Madagascar. The first people who did eventually arrive here followed an extraordinary circuitous route - from the Indo-Malaysian island of Borneo.

Contemporary Malagasy culture is thus a wonderful blend of Indonesian, African, Arab and more recently, French influences. Two items central to Madagascar life today illustrate the Indonesian-African nexus. Rice from Asia and the zebu - cattle from Africa - are mainstays of the Malagasy diet. The fascinating cultural interweave of languages, music and religious practices was a happy reminder to me that we can indeed celebrate a life which values unity in diversity. I will not forget the genuine welcoming warmth of the Malagasy people that I encountered daily.


Sea of Joy.

The children gleefully playing in the Indian Ocean on the west coast of Madagascar, at Ifaty and Morondava put an enormous smile on my face.

Three boys proudly showed me their handcrafted little boats that are ready to set sail in the Mozambique Channel.

It was not far from here, that humpback whales could be seen on their annual migration from Antarctica - to mate and give birth in these warm waters.






Like them - I too hope to return to this extraordinary place.





 





Thursday, July 20, 2017

Haida Gwaii: "Islands of the People"




The Haida Gwaii archipelago lies fifty to a hundred and fifty kilometers off the northwest coast of British Columbia. These remote islands - more than 400 - provide the traveller with an opportunity to explore a stunning ancient landscape with powerful reminders of First Nations culture. The two main islands are Graham Island to the North and Moresby Island in the South.

The Haida people have inhabited these islands for more than 12, 500 years. Today the gradually decaying remnants of vanishing villages can be visited in the protected, and now largely uninhabited southern portion of Moresby Island known as Gwaii Haanas (Islands of Beauty).

Since 1993, Gwaii Haanas has been jointly managed by the Council of the Haida Nation and the Government of Canada. This remarkable place is a designated Haida Heritage Site, a National Park Reserve and a National Marine Conservation Area Reserve.

It is an honour to have visited this awe-inspiring sacred landscape.



Haida Gwaii Watchmen welcome visitors and act as guardians of the Haida Heritage Sites.


Rapacious industrial logging practices borne of the greed and cultural disregard associated with ongoing colonization was threatening the survival of this beautiful Land and her People. Clear-cuts were destroying what were then still called The Queen Charlotte Islands.

Protests against logging began in earnest in 1985. The Haida people and their non-aboriginal supporters were arrested for blocking loggers and their vehicles. Civil disobedience eventually led to the cessation of logging and the protected ecosystem we see today.

Sgang Gwaay (Anthony Island)  on the southwest coast of Hoida Gwaii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The Legacy Pole was carved by Jaalen Edenshaw and was raised at Windy Bay on Lyell Island in 2013 to commemorate 20 years of cooperative management of  Gwaii Haanas between the Council of the Haida Nation and the Government of Canada. It was the first monumental pole raised here in 130 years. The figures represent the brave protesters who locked arms and stood their ground in actions which led to the preservation of this precious land. 

Given that Haida Gwaii is in BC, a playful nonconformist sensibility lives harmoniously and  respectfully side by side the region's indigenous culture. The Moon Over Naikoon Bakery housed in a repurposed, funky old school bus serves delicious baked goods and organic coffee.

Perfect after a long stroll on nearby North Beach on Graham Island.







Friday, May 12, 2017

My MP replies

Six months ago, I wrote Hedy Fry -  my Federal Liberal Party of Canada Member of Parliament, to express my appreciation for the Liberal Party for restoring funding to UNRWA. UNRWA - the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East - is the UN agency responsible for providing services that include, education, medical and psychological health care, relief and social services to some five million Palestinian refugees. The prior Conservative Government of Canada, under Stephen Harper, cut aid to UNRWA in a misguided and mean-spirited act related to kowtowing to Zionist pressure and Islamophobic racism.

I take some small comfort in the idea that a simple letter can ripple through a vast bureaucracy and moreover hopefully play a role in bringing health and social justice to a traumatized people.  Lasting peace is of course contingent on ending the longstanding, brutal military occupation of Palestine.

Here is my letter:

Dear Hedy Fry MP,

Greetings from English Bay, Vancouver! 

I just want to let you know that I am very pleased that you and the Liberal Government made the wise, humanitarian and indeed compassionate decision to restore support for the UN agency assisting Palestinian refugees. I know personally that the work UNRWA does in Gaza is of profound importance. Earlier this year I was there with a medical and psychological delegation providing training to mental health professionals treating the traumatized Palestinian population. UNRWA's work is necessary. I saw it myself. Their schools, mental health and medical programs are superb. Without their dedication and professional contributions, this beleaguered society's suffering would be far greater then what it already is. As you can well imagine, the psychosocial needs of Palestinian refugees are enormous and so I was glad to see aid was reinstated. Parenthetically, I am sorry that misguided and self-serving organizations have voiced criticism of the decision. I can assure you the accusations are baseless. People in Palestine are deeply traumatized and providing assistance to alleviate pain is obviously the ethical thing to do.

Yours sincerely, 
John Soos, PhD 
Vancouver, BC V6G 1N2

And her is her reply:

Dear Dr. Soos,

Thank you for writing my office to voice your support for the UNRWA and the well-being of Palestinian refugees. I appreciate hearing from constituents, as it keeps me grounded and helps me to focus on your priorities as your Member of Parliament.

Canada is back. Our funding of $25 million will directly support the education and health care needs of vulnerable Palestinian refugees.  With this funding, Canada joins all other G7 countries in supporting UNRWA’s efforts to meet the ever increasing needs of Palestinian refugees, assist in providing basic services for vulnerable people, and contribute to stability in the region. As with all Canadian development and humanitarian programming in the West Bank and Gaza, enhanced due diligence will ensure that the aid we provide will go where it’s needed. 

These contributions will help approximately 5.5 million Palestinian refugees – particularly women and children – receive the assistance they need, including access to healthcare and the opportunity to go to school. Access to a quality education is the key to the future of young Palestinians in allowing them to play a positive role in their communities. This is crucial for peace, stability and security in the region.

Once again, thank you for your positive email in support of UNRWA funding. Please do not hesitate to write again should you have any further questions, on this topic or any other.

Sincerely,


Hon. Hedy Fry, P.C., M.P.
Vancouver Centre


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Walking with the Busó




















I was walking with the Busó  - men in fantastically carved, horned masks, wearing sheep skin cloaks  - in the small Hungarian town of Mohács.

Mohács is situated on the Danube across the border from Croatia. The Hungarians were defeated  there by the Turks in 1526 at the Battle of Mohács. The Nation was occupied by Ottoman Turks for one hundred and fifty years.

Busójárás - walking with the Busó - is a curious blend of pre-Lenten Carnival; farewell to winter/welcome to Spring; and re-creation of a 16th century legendary battle.  It was then that the Mohács townspeople, amidst a fierce storm and dressed in the frightening attire, scared the occupying Ottoman troops away and thus regained their freedom and their town.

Over the years, the confluence of these strands coalesced into today's fantastic Mohács Farshang (Carnival) . In 2009, UNESCO listed it as a World Heritage event.


On the night of Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) - the final day of Carnival - winter is placed inside a coffin and the Busó send it off in flames amidst a large bonfire in the center of town.

The town is liberated, winter is dealt a final blow, spring is welcome and Lent begins.


Friday, April 14, 2017

The Transient Beauty of Cherry Blossoms





Sakura: Japanese for cherry. 

Hanami: Japanese for gathering together and viewing the transient beauty of cherry blossoms.

Yozakura: Marveling them while illuminated in the night.

The Buddhist doctrine of impermanence is seamlessly entwined with Japanese floral aesthetics.
 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Dual Pilgrim: El Camino de Santiago to Kumano Kodo

Many years after walking in the footsteps of St. James along the Camino de Santiago from The French Pyrenees to Galicia in Western Spain,  I  more recenltly walked across Japan's Kii Peninsula to complete the Kumano Kodo. UNESCO has designated these two long distance trails as World Heritage pilgrimage routes. Those who complete both are recognized as Dual Pilgrims. Taking my first steps on the Way of Saint James in 2000, one can say that I took seventeen years to complete the journey across Spain's Christian Medieval pilgrimage route and on through the thousand year-old Japanese Shinto-Buddhist pilgrims' path. In truth, I am still walking the Way.