Family Lines

stories for you

Month: August 2013

Call of Gambia


A baobob tree in The Gambia.

Working in my home office in Calgary there are distracting noises constantly around me. I hear the beep, beep, beep from construction equipment, I hear police and fire sirens in the distance, I hear magpies chattering, I hear a man talking with an Irish accent to his buddies while they walk under my window, I hear the squirrels scaling the trees near the balcony and I hear the steady hum of traffic on the busy street.

These are all normal urban sounds but my ears have been craving a different tone lately. Especially when times are rough such as now when my business is struggling and I’m searching for alternatives. It’s a pitch I sometimes evoke in my memory and play for myself. It’s in the babble of the city that I’m listening for an orchestra from Gambia.

When I was 25 I was part of the Canadian Youth International Internship Program that sent me to The Gambia, West Africa. It was a great experience but not because everything was fine and dandy. There were some definite bad times while I was there acting as the publications officer for a human rights organization – The African Centre for Human Rights and Democracy Studies.

Two of us were sent to the centre. My roommate and colleague, Chris, was from New Brunswick and she took the position as the finance officer. Together we weathered the hot weather, took on termites and learned a bit of the local language. We also supported African human rights through our work in Gambia, a country which is facing major violations right now.

There’s no average day in Gambia. No day where anything goes smoothly. No day where there wasn’t a high and there wasn’t a low. Nothing was ever in-between. Everything was in constant motion, constant flux, constant change. Except for the birds and the crickets.

No matter what was happening we could always expect the birds and the crickets to carry on the same song. To drown out anything that was going on in our brains. To be the one thing for certain.

I’ve played that melody in my head so many times since. The other day I went online and searched “African bird songs”. And I found what I was looking for. It’s the sound of the laughing dove calling through the din of crickets and other singers. I was immediately transported from my noisy office to a place of peace – an acoustic bit of serenity in my otherwise loud reality. Click here to listen.

What goes wear in hockey?


Not a great hockey shot but shows the inside of the Fort Smith Centennial Arena.

This past May the arena in Fort Smith, N.T. was damaged by fire. As in any small town the rink is the hub of the community and the blaze left a hole in the village. However, recently Smith won a TSN contest valued at $25,000 that’ll help rebuild the Centennial Arena – a place that froze my ears while I learned to play hockey.

When I was getting ready to move to the Northwest Territories from Sackville, N.B. my sister, who lives in a northwestern Ontario town, told me I would be playing hockey. I said I probably wouldn’t be since I didn’t have any equipment. Besides, there would be other things to do.

I arrived in Smith in the fall and there were lots of things to do. Hiking and biking and movie nights at the Northern Life Museum. But in late October the only thing the women in town could talk about was hockey. They were so excited to lace up their skates and hit the ice and be part of the Fort Smith Fury, as the team was named.

“Are you going to sign up?” I was asked. A lot.

“I don’t think so,” I would respond. “No equipment.”

“Don’t let that stand in your way,” they answered. “I know Sandra has a pair of skates for sale and Shari has a helmet. The team has some extra stuff like shin pads, elbow pads and chest pads. I’m sure someone has socks and a jersey you can borrow.”

And they did.

That first night of practice I was nervous. Not because I didn’t know how to play: my family cleaned off the pond near us every winter for shinny, so I knew how to play hockey. I was nervous because I didn’t know how to put on any equipment, except for the skates. With my chin up I took all “my” fifth-hand equipment and sat down in the locker room full of women I didn’t know.

I soon got to know them as they patiently explained what went where. As they filtered out onto the ice it left just me and Laura in the change room. Then I realized my pants didn’t have a string or a belt to hold them up.

“No problem,” said Laura. She wound hockey tape around my waist and it did the trick. I put on my “vintage” jersey and I looked like a real hockey player. I took to the ice that night feeling the part even though I definitely was not a CWHL (Canadian Women’s Hockey League) superstar.

I played hockey for three years in the Smith arena. Loved every

Hockey player.

Me – the hockey player.

minute of it. I especially loved skating in that rink. It’s beautiful. The wooden beams and the ceiling made me feel like I was in a cathedral. When the fire hit I was extremely sad. But thanks to TSN’s Kraft Celebration Tour contest, people will fill the Centennial Arena again.


TSN was broadcasting from Fort Smith last Friday. Smith, with its population of 2,600, beat out Whitehorse — a city 10 times the size — for the Kraft Celebration Tour prize. Now that’s community spirit.

Mountain of memories


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