Family Lines

stories for you

Month: October 2014

All it takes is one person

market place.

A market in Gambia. The yellow car with green stripes is a taxi.

Ghosts are real. I know because one haunts me. He doesn’t just appear at night – he comes anytime, anywhere. This ghost is not a fanciful wisp residing in my brain, this ghost is real. I’ve seen him. In the flesh.

I went to West Africa, along with a woman from New Brunswick, to work as an intern at a non-governmental organization (NGO) in The Gambia. This was several years ago when I was around 24 years old. Before this experience I thought I was going to change the world. I was going to make a difference. However, throughout my time as a publications officer recording human rights violations on the continent, I realized the planet was set on staying the same. Humans like the status quo.

Gambia is sub-Sahara and sand is everywhere. Peanuts, what they call ground nuts, thrive there as well as palm oil from the abundant leafy trees. Temperatures and humidity are high and sweat rolled down me from all directions. Gambia is poor, very poor, but there are a few rich, extremely rich, people. It’s evident in the large sprawling compounds built next to families living amongst their chickens.

Most people are friendly. Some, mostly men, too much so. They thought my roommate and I were in the country for a different reason. (There’s a booming market for sex tourism catering to Europeans women.) After a month living in Fajara, we went from polite Canadians to rudely snapping, “Go away!” in Wolof. I got good at tuning out the voices of passersby or those sitting by the side of the road calling to us. I became such an expert at ignoring people in the street that a friend had to tap me on the shoulder to get my attention. He had said hello to me three times. My ears had blocked his greetings and I was ashamed.

Travelling opens your eyes but it can also close your mind. No one talks about that. They only talk about the good, the positive, which is great but not realistic. Why can’t we have authentic discussions about the good and the bad? In Gambia I got used to some people asking me for things, wanting things, begging, stretching out their hands and asking, “Give me money.” I walked by. Not hearing.

In the middle of my several month term we were invited to a conference in Dakar, Senegal. Travel! Cool. (Or I should say, scorching.) We were driven from Gambia to Senegal in an SUV piloted by the NGO’s competent driver. He stopped in a busy and dusty Senegalese town a few hours into the trip. I can’t remember why: maybe for a bathroom break or for gas. He parked near a market where hundreds of people and booths packed the sandy street. It was hot, too hot. The sun was bright, too bright. It was noisy at the bazaar, too noisy.

I could see a man sitting to the side of our vehicle. One of his legs was half gone. One arm was half gone, the stump hanging from his shoulder. I didn’t know what was wrong with him. I didn’t get out of the SUV to ask. I didn’t get out of the vehicle to see him. Why would I?

The man saw me.

He saw me and maybe saw a bit of hope. He saw me and thought maybe I will help him. He saw me and thought maybe I’ll give him a chance.

The man couldn’t walk. He didn’t have a wheelchair or even a cane. He wiggled over to my window by moving his hips side to side in the dirt. It must not have been comfortable. It must not have been easy. It was a struggle. He made it the two metres to my side of the SUV and lifted up his hand to me. Said something I couldn’t hear. I refused to hear. It was nothing I haven’t heard before.

I did nothing.

baobab tree.

A baobab tree in Kololi, Gambia.

Our driver got in the vehicle and drove off. Leaving the man amidst the busy market. Where everyone got on with their business.

Since that day I’ve asked myself why, why, why? Why didn’t I spare an extra dalasi (dollar)? Why didn’t I give him something to eat? Why didn’t I at least hear him? How did I become that person, that person who turns away?

I don’t know. I’ve rationalized it: if I gave something to everyone then they’d expect it from others who come after me; I would have gone broke if I had to shell out money to everyone looking for a handout, or something along those lines. I still don’t have an answer.

I do know that this man changed my world. One man. His ghost comes to remind me that change starts with me. That listening to people and hearing them is what matters. That ignorance is not bliss. That no matter where in the world you are – you can make a difference.

The apple of my eye

apple orchard.

Beautiful orchard in the Annapolis Valley, N. S. Photo credit: Fudge Benedict.

It was a ham sandwich. And it was going to be delicious. I had prepared it with Yum Bakery’s Good Hearty Bread (a mix of grains and seeds), a slice of black forest ham, a piece of green, crisp lettuce and a little bit of creamy, golden butter. But I never got to enjoy my creation. Someone else ate it.

I made the sandwich to have for lunch while apple picking, part of a Horton High School band fundraiser. As a trumpet player (and not a good one) I was in a Nova Scotia orchard twisting off apples and piling them in a big wooden box. Our efforts would hopefully help pay for a trip to the U.S. East Coast.

This autumn labour would bear fruit in the spring when we took the elevator up the Empire State Building and went down to the Boston Aquarium. At the time, it was a lot of hard work. The orchard might look idyllic with its red, red apples hanging off the sturdy brown branches amidst pretty velvet green leaves but it seemed like when I picked one Northern Spy or Cortland or Red Delicious, two more took its place. The harvest was never-ending.

The Saturday was a bust too. I had to get up early for the drive out to the Annapolis Valley farm when I just wanted to sleep in for once. It was a chilly and foggy morning too and the tall wet grass soaked my sneakers and made my feet damp and cold. Two things were keeping me going, though: my fantastic sandwich and a chance to see the cute band guy.

I was new to Horton. The large high school was a catchment for smaller rural junior highs. After Grade 9 at Wolfville Junior High, my classmates and I bused it to Horton High for Grade 10. I didn’t relish the idea of going to a new place but it was a chance to meet new friends. Indeed, I was picking apples with a few recently acquired buddies whom I’m still friends with today.

apple orchard.

Those apples look delicious. Just like my sandwich. Photo credit: Fudge Benedict.

Among the unfamiliar faces (to me) was a boy who was tall and skinny with dark brown hair. I don’t remember his name or what instrument he played, only that he was a year older and I liked him. Like-liked him. I had yet to say a word to the guy and I doubt he even knew I was in the orchard but I hoped he would notice me in the romantic, bucolic setting. I was sure the valley mist made my eyes sparkle and my cheeks as rosy as the apples.

My friends and I quickly picked our first tree clean. When we moved onto the next challenge I left my coat and plastic bag — with my lunch in it — under apple-free boughs. My crush wasn’t as industrious as us. In fact, he didn’t pick anything at all. He lounged by a nearby tree, watching us until two of his buddies, one of them a girl, came to visit.

After a few hours of gathering apples my friends and I decided to have lunch. The image of my delectable sandwich enticed me to walk faster to our original tree. I couldn’t wait to have a bite and taste all the hearty ham goodness of my snack.

What’s this? The plastic bag was empty. No trace of bread or meat or even a crumb anywhere. My sandwich was gone. Gone! I wanted to cry and bit my untasty lip to fend off tears.

Then I saw my crush. He was sitting in the same place I left him with his pals. They hadn’t been working at all. Just trolling around the apple tree. An arm’s length away from my sandwich.

apples.

I might not have my sandwich but there are tons of crunchy apples to enjoy. Photo credit: Fudge Benedict.

I could never prove he was the one who ate my fine meal. I could never say it was him. I never confronted him or even asked him if he was the one who enjoyed my lunch. That was the end of my sandwich and the end of that crush.

 

 

A welcome home by Freddy

Freddy Wilson.

Look closely… the figure in the middle of the overpass is Freddy Wilson. This photo was taken in July 2014 when Freddy was waving to motorists on Highway 101 near Hantsport, N.S.

I won’t be headed home to Nova Scotia from Calgary for Thanksgiving this year. I’ll miss the red, orange and yellow of the province’s spectacular foliage. I’ll miss bringing in the wood while smelling turkey and pies baking. I’ll miss my family and seeing how tall my niece and nephew have grown. I’ll also miss the drive from the Halifax airport, where a man stands to greet you, to the Annapolis Valley.

My family home is in the Annapolis Valley. Those of you who live (and whose hearts still live) in the valley know to look up at the Bog Road overpass spanning Highway 101, near the town of Hantsport. There’s usually a man standing on the bridge, rain or shine, waving to the cars and trucks and semis passing quickly below. From the driver’s seat, I can never see the man’s face but I know there’s a smile that comes with his “hello.”

For as long as I can remember this man has welcomed or bade farewell to motorists going to and from the valley. My family used to call him “The Waver.” A friend’s mother called him her “Little Buddy.” I didn’t know much about him until an article came out in the local paper, The Advertiser, in 2007.

The waver’s name is Freddy Wilson and the overpass he stands on is now named after him. He’s been waving for over 40 years and a trip home for me is not complete without seeing him. However, he hasn’t been out and about much. His long-time post was replaced by a new, higher bridge and so he’s not out there as often. That means for a few years I returned to the valley, I never got a wave.

Freddy at his  post.

Freddy at his post.

This summer I was back in Nova Scotia and ready for the drive home. It was around suppertime when we neared the turn-off for Hantsport. Who was standing above us on the overpass? Freddy. What a welcome home. Thanks Freddy.

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