Monday, October 23, 2006


Wow. It seems lately I've been blessed with a whole bunch of strange experiences. I sense I should be learning something here, but all I feel I'm really learning is how to be very confused!

Last Friday I was dying of thirst so I went down to the cafeteria to fill up my water bottle. I'm off in my own little world, daydreaming about something I feel I have no right to dream about, when a frantic woman ran up to me, said "Michelle, is that you?" hugged me, and began crying. This woman was familiar to me, but it took me a long time to place her. I eventually remembered that she was the mother of a girl I went to high school with. I couldn't believe she remembered me. She held on to me for quite some time, telling me how very sick her husband is. She told me every little detail. I hardly said a word. I felt her pain so intensely that I also cried. After this, she stepped back and looked at me. She put her hands on my shoulders and thanked me; she told me that I made her feel a lot better, that I told her what she needed to hear. I wandered back to my office feeling completely drained. I hardly had enough physical energy to lift my finger to push the button on the elevator. I had a splitting headache. I spent the rest of the afternoon wondering if medicine will really be the right career for me. I will need to learn how to not let people suck the life out of me. I could've protected myself, I know this, but I had the opportunity to give something to someone who needed it, and there is just no way I could refuse her that.

Friday night Shelley and I went to see Ronnie Burckett's new marionnette show, "10 Days on Earth" ( It was disturbing, but extremely well done. I was so thankful to have Shelley beside me - I generally have to do everything by myself, which is usually okay by me. I go to art galleries by myself. I go to movies by myself. I go for walks by myself. Sometimes I even take myself out for dinner. In the show, the main character is a simple-minded man who spends lots of time in a fantasy world. I couldn't help but relate to him in that way. I spend a lot of time in my own little world too. I dream about the life I would like to have, about the world I would like to live in. And I wonder if this is why I never really feel lonely. I have no problems sitting in a restaurant with a glass of wine and a notebook. I wonder if this makes me look simple-minded to the rest of the world....I wonder if maybe I am simple-minded.

I spent Saturday out on 200 acres of unspoiled land where this amazing woman Paula and her daughter Twyla run a sancuary for abused, neglected, and abanded animals. She has llamas, goats, parrots, cats, dogs and horses. I got a bit lost finding the place, because as usual I was daydreaming andnot paying attention to the road. But when I arrived and met the other people who had chosen to spend the day there, the usual thing happened - three people were 100% sure they had met me before but couldn't place where. If I had a penny for every person who felt they knew me, I'd be a very rich girl. I wonder why this happens so often. I managed to connect almost immediately with one of the women there (and she was one who felt she knew me from before - in fact she felt familiar to me too). I went on a tour of her land, and it was so beautiful. There were rolling hills and fields and a forest, and then in the middle of the forest was a mossy area with pines growing, and it looked just like the forest along the BC coast. I felt so connected to the earth in that place. Even though it was freezing cold and soaking wet, I felt the need to take my shoes off and let my feet really connect to the earth.

And then I met Lola. Lola is a horse who had been starved nearly to death. She has been at the sanctuary for quite some time, but she has been unable to put on any weight. I felt her call me. Paula warned us all that she was nervous and skittish and could be aggressive. But I just knew somehow that I would be safe with her. I walked up to her and I looked in one of her eyes and I told her she was beautiful. I walked to the side of her and rested my head against her. I could feel her ribs poking through her skin. I cried and cried and cried. I had more to learn from Paula, and so I left Lola. Later, during lunch, I took an apple out to her. I stood beside her, she rested her head on my shoulder, and she fell asleep. She even snored. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life, to be trusted like this. I rested my head on her and stood there for 45 minutes and just felt her breathing, felt this life beside me. It was magical.

But I was outraged. I can't fathom the thought of people treating animals this way. Paula and I talked about it. Paula believes that the way humans treat animals is a reflection of the way they treat each other. She's right - all you have to do is look at the genocide happening in Darfur. Not only are people killing each other, children are starving, women are being raped, and the rest of the world sits back and lets it happen. People can spare $5 to buy a latte at Starbucks, but they can't spare some change to feed the hungry. People say they have no time to donate, but they spend 6 hours in front of the TV every night vicariously living through fictitious characters. Many people don't even bother educating themselves about this world. I just don't get it.

And as enraged as I get, I am also guilty. I mean I sit here and spout all of this, but what do I really do to help this world? Sure, I give money to Amnesty International every month. Sure, I will be buying oats to take to Lola this week, sure I dutifuly read the Economist every week to keep up with world events. But what do I really do? I know I can do more, and yet I don't.

Shelley and I drove to Vermillion to meet a friend for lunch, and the whole way there I talked about this. I talked about how I can't possibly do everything. I can't save all the starving children. I can't treat every person with AIDS in Africa, and can't take in all the orphans, I can't rescue all the animals. I know that I have a special connection with animals. I know that I have two rescued dogs living in my house already. I know I could do what Paula does. But instead of doing it, I sit here and say, but I have no time, I have no money. How can I buy land? Where do I find the money to feed these animals? How would I ever be able to cope, seeing such suffereing every day? How ever will I cope when I die of heartbreak every time an animals gets adopted? Shelley would say I'm only being realistic, but I think I'm just making excuses, like everyone else does.

The thing is, this is how I see my life. I see myself living in a wide open space surrounded by trees and lots of animals. I see myself having my own garden, and having a space where I can do yoga outside, on the grass, naked, whenever I want to. I see there being lots of time to make music, or art, or to write. And love, love, love all around me. But instead, what I have is a house in the city that I don't like. A job that I don't like. I have a partner who loves me to death, yet I find myself wanting more. More passion, more joy, more connection. I am loved here, yet I pine for someone I don't really know, someone I know I will never have. There's just a strong yearning for a different kind of life. The problem is that this yearning is getting stronger, and I can't seem to release the attachment I have to my life, and it all makes me feel like I'm spinning out of control.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


I just ran into an old colleague of mine. We used to work together in the lab. She stopped me in the hallway to tell me that she received all of my emails from Uzbekistan, and that she printed them all to keep for her children to read when they are older. She read them some of my stories, including my visit to the TB Sanitorium for children and the pcitures they drew of what a world without TB would look like. She told them about the small boy who won the prize of a soccer ball for his picture, and how happy this made him. The story touched her son so much that he now wants to send soccer balls to children who need them. I was really touched to hear this. Even if I made no difference whatsoever in Uzbekistan, I might have done something to change the way a little Canadian boy sees the world. Maybe he will grow up to change the world!

Friday, September 29, 2006

I'm baaaack!

Well, it's been a long time, hasn't it? I went to Uzbekistan, came home, went to Bangladesh, came home again, and plan to stick around here for a little while. I feel the need to spend some time feeding the home fires.

What prompted me to write again was something as mundane as a little office squabble. I am back working for my old boss again (he's such a great guy). Unfortunately, we share office space with another group (who aren't such great guys). They are completely uncompromising and unrelenting on anything at all. And of course I can't find the courage to stand up to them, even on the issues for which I know I am right! This is definitely a personality flaw. I must get to work on that!

In other news, I have begun playing the cello. I love it. I have always wanted to learn how to play, and now that I don't have a big grey thundercloud of a thesis hanging over my head, I have the time and freedom to take lessons.

I have also started running. Shelley and I took a running class, and now we run 5km on a regular basis. We are now starting to increase our distances. I seem to think that for each additional km I run, I am entitled to another LuluLemon outfit. If you use my logic, it is much more sensible to reward myself by spending $100 on workout clothes than $1.25 on a chocolate bar!

I start horseback riding lessons next week. I am only taking 4 lessons to see how it works out for me. I met a horse for the first time in Uzbekistan, on a journey out to see what was left of the Aral Sea, and fell in love with him. So of course I feel the need to meet another horse.

I seem to have found my groove here at home. I'll keep you posted of any bumps on the road.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Celebrating a Western holiday season with Eastern Beliefs

I have long struggled with this time of year. I have so many problems with Christmas, starting with the fact that I am not a Christian, but also encompassing issues such as: I don't do turkey dinner as a vegetarian, I try to live my life simplisticly, avoiding excessive materialism, etc. Trying to get loved ones to understand this is rather difficult, particulary with my family who find comfort in the traditions of the holiday. The end result of this struggle is general angst and grumpiness during the season. However, I've had a change of heart this year, and am totally excited about the holiday. I've chosen to concentrate on the aspects that I love: the overwhelming joy of my mother, the lights shining throughout the city, people who normally don't giving to charity giving what they can. I still struggle a bit, mostly with the fact that we as westerners overeat, overdrink, and overindulge for a full month, when most of the human population lives in poverty. In any case, I just read an article that nicely explained how one woman finds a way to make her western upbringing co-exist with her eastern beliefs. It's called Om for the Holidays and you can find it here:

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I'm a Master!!!

Well, almost! I just finished my thesis defense and it went soooooooo well! I can't believe it's all finally over! I was a nervous wreck all day, but as usual, the anticipation was way worse than the actual defense. As soon as I started talking I KNEW I was going to nail it. I felt so comfortable and the words were just falling out of my mouth. My external examiner was the first one to ask questions, and she starting off by saying "First let me tell you that this an excellent thesis, perfectly written, and very important". I pretty much knew then that I was going to pass! The remaining questions were all very fair, and were also very general. Those questions are so much more fun to answer than the nit-picky ones. Anyway, at the end of it all I was told I couldn't have done it better, and then was offered a job opportunity with WHO!!!!! How can it get any better than that!!!!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The petty details of the squid and the whale

The other night Shelley and I went to see a movie called "The Squid and the Whale". It was a rather candid look at parental influence, particularly in the face of divorce. The story centered on a pair of brothers, one who wants to be a writer like dad, and the other who wants to be a tennis pro. The parents aren't the nicest of people - mom has several affairs during the marriage, and dad is an emotionally abusive arrogant asshole (that's my opinion of him anyway). They are both PhD literary experts and the movie involves lots of discussion around "classic works" which was often quite funny. Anyway, it was interesting to watch these two boys experience the divorce, how they seemed to "pick sides", and how they each adopted certain traits from their parents. It was particularly interesting how they chose to also focus on the sexual journey of these boys - Frank, the youngest son, is just discovering himself and begins experimenting with alcohol and masterbation, while Walt, the eldest, struggles over the state of his first relationship with a girl. Neither parent seems able to give the boys the guidance they need during this and as such they end up getting into a bit of trouble.

I just finished a book called "The Petty Details of So-and-So's Life". This book also dealt with parental influence, this time focusing on a brother and sister and how they each cope with the disapearance of their mentally ill father and the resulting withdrawal and alcoholism of their mother. Despite having some rather humorous moments, the book touches on the issues of child abuse, sexual abuse, incest, homophobia, self-mutilation, mental illness and alcoholism. The story centers around Emma and Blue, siblings who took comfort in each other during their early years, hiding from the abuse of their father. When he leaves, each sibling deals with his absence in a different way. Emma continually tries to re-invent herself, creating new lives in which she doesn't have to deal with the facts of her true life. Eventually, of course, this catches up to her. Despite her sexual confusion and her fears that she will end up like her father, she manages to find happiness in her life. Blue, on the other hand, is constantly haunted by his father's abusive comments. He turns into a drug-addicted, rough-and-tough tattoo artist who spends considerable time trying to find his homeless father, and finds relief only in the saddest of ways at the end of the novel.

Anyway, it was interesting to read a book and see a movie that both dealth with a pair of siblings trying to grow up in less-than-ideal circumstances. Gave lots of food for thought....

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Map of My World

I found this website where you can map out all of the countries you have visited. Here's what my map looks like:

create your own visited country map

Mind the wildlife

There's nothing like absolute darkness to make you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. It fascinates me how you can arrive at your destination in the dark, completely unaware of your physical surroundings, and then wake up in the morning to find yourself amidst glorious mountains and lakes. This has been the story of my life this week. I am in the interior of BC for work, and have so far visited the towns of Trail, Cranbrook, Nelson and Penticton. It's only Thursday and I've already put over 1300km on the car!

On the first day, from Kelowna to Trail, I had to drive over a snow-filled, icy pass. I was white-knuckled the whole time and even had to turn off the music to allow complete concentration on the road. Then, on my way to Cranbrook, I drove over the highest pass in BC in complete darkness, and I was the only vehicle on the road. It was sooooo scary! I'm driving this puny little gutless Echo and I was sure I was going to slide right off the side of the mountain! Thankfully, I didn't.

When it came time to drive over to Nelson on Tuesday, I was in a slight state of panic because I didn't want to go over that damn pass again. I figured I tested my luck once already - I didn't need to do it again. So I went to the Visitors' Information Center in Creston, after an amazing small-town lunch, and asked for alternate ways of getting to Nelson. The lady at the desk said that I could only go over the pass if I had chains on the car. Well, the rental didn't come with chains, and even if it did, I wouldn't have a clue what to do with them. Besides, she said her husband worked for the fire department and had done several rescues that morning already, and that the pass would likely be closed later in the day. So, I had no choice but to go the looooooooong way. That was fine by me. It was a gorgeous drive around Kootenay Lake, and I got to take a ferry. So it was all good.

It took me about 5 minutes to realize that I loved Nelson and never, ever wanted to leave. The place is simply stunning. In a weird way it kind of reminded me of Rwanda - when you approach the city, you can see rows upon rows of houses terraced into the mountain, just like the farms and villages were in Rwanda. Anyway, Nelson has an Ashtanga yoga studio, several meditation centers, restaurants with catchy names, like The Treehouse which served vegan entrees and Night Train which claimed to serve "soul food". They had stores geared towards the "responsible consumer" and hemp stores galore. All this I found on a short walk in the evening. Add in all the amazing opportunities for hiking, and you've got paradise, as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, morning came and I went to the hospital (half way up a mountain I might add) and finished my work, and then it was on the road again - this time to Penticton. The logical way to get there, according the map, was to retrace my steps. However, this required going over a flippin' pass again. My colleague at the hospital made some comment suggesting that I was brave, if not a little insane, to go over that pass. So I left the hospital, went to my trendy little car, and stared at the map, thinking that I had been brave enough on my first day of driving, and that there was really nothing wrong with choosing to drive several hours longer in order to avoid one hour of sheer terror. Besides, I shouldn't gamble with my life and limbs when I'm on the boss' money.

The drive, again, was beautiful. At least it was while the light lasted. By the time I came to yet another ferry ride across another lake, it was 5pm and therefore dark. I drove up and over another pass, although thankfully the snow chose to stay on the trees and not the roads. But, it was 107km, this trail around the mountain, and the speed limit was usually only 60km/h, sometimes even 20km/h on account of the windiness.

I must admit that I got a bit scared again. You know that you are truly in barren land when you can't even get CBC on am radio. I managed to keep my mind busy during those grueling 107km, mostly contemplating the wildlife in the area. I saw more deer and elk on that stretch than I had the rest of the trip! What I was trying to figure out was why they choose to dash to the far side of the road, and dangerously crossing my path, rather than hop back into the ditch they are standing right beside. It's a mystery. At least the animals kept me company. As did the signs on the road telling me to look out for them.