Do you know who this soldier is?
A few summers ago I bought a painting at a yard sale in Vernon, B.C. It’s acrylic on velvet; almost like one of those velvet Elvis pictures you see hanging in someone’s creepy wood-panelled basement. Except it’s not Elvis staring back at me, it’s a soldier. This soldier is nameless and nationless but his story may have been revealed by a click of a mouse.
The painting appealed to me: the colours, the texture of the “canvas,” the subject, and I brought the piece of art home for four dollars. The unknown soldier has travelled with me around Western Canada and now lives in Calgary. Even though we’ve been living together for about seven years, I don’t know anything about him.
One friend who met the soldier thought he was a Gurkha, a fearsome soldier from Nepal. Their famous motto is, “Better to die than be a coward.” Gurkhas still carry their traditional weapon called a kukri, an 18-inch long curved knife. An interesting speculation but I don’t think this guy one of these warriors.
The other day I was wasting time online when I clicked on a BBC News link: Why the Indian soldiers of WW1 were forgotten. The article’s main photo was in black and white but I immediately recognized the uniforms: my soldier’s kit. Was he an Indian solider in the First World War?
I don’t know. But through the article by I learned that the feats and the losses and the stories of these soldiers are missing from most of our history books. Some people, including me, have no idea of the contribution of the Indian units. It also makes me think about the time when I lived in The Gambia, West Africa. My roommate and I walked past the Fajara War Cemetery a couple of times and I wondered why we don’t hear about Gambian veterans. Where are their stories?
There’s no signature on my soldier’s likeness. No markings to tell me where he is from or where he belongs. Nothing to identify him. However, his silence spoke to me and opened a new portal into the past and introduced me to some forgotten sacrifices.
Smiles in Tansen, Nepal. June, 2011.
Photo: Kyla Storry
Nepal is on the other side of the world. It seems so far away. Yet it’s not. The earthquake that hit, and hit hard, is hitting Canada too. My sister visited the country a couple of years ago and I have several friends who have lived and travelled to Kathmandu. Through their stories I’ve heard about a country that smiles through its struggles. On Saturday the lives of Nepalis were changed by the churning jaws of Earth.
The earthquake brought damage, destruction, death. And waiting. Waiting to hear that loved ones are safe. Waiting to hear their voices or see their messages over e-mail or Facebook. My sister was lucky and only spent a few hours wondering about the fate of her friends. They weren’t hurt. But they’re not OK. Far from it:
“(Our) mothers’ houses are mostly cracked and about to collapse due to very old houses and made by stone and mud, we are all safe, thank you so much for your prayers. There is still a huge fear in our hearts due to frequent quakes happening time to time. It is very important your prayer at the moment. It’s been 2 nights since we are sleeping outside of the house with this disastrous earth quake.”
Birkha and Dhana
Some of us make new connections when we travel. We share stories and cultures and
At the temple in the UNESCO world heritage site of Bhaktapur, June 2011.
Photo: Kyla Storry
Click here: http://bit.ly/1OteJPO
interesting things about our lives. We invest time and energy getting to know these people. Back at home we trade the occasional status update or photo in order to keep the thread of our vacation memories from slipping away. But here is our chance to make our worlds collide again. It’s in the time of sheer pain and disaster that our global relationships pay off. We in Canada have the power to help. Will you?
Winnipeg Centre Vineyard
The Canadian Red Cross
SOS Children’s Villages
Doctors Without Borders
The Lions Clubs International Foundation
Canadian Medical Assistance Teams
Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund