Sunday, October 30, 2011

Joyce Mary Haythornthwaite

October 31 is always a sad day for me because it's the day my mom died in 1996. She had been declining for weeks in Ottawa and I had cut back my studies at Concordia in Montreal so that I would only need to be there one day a week but it was on one of those days that my aunt called to rush me back.

My aunt met me at the hospital entrance and told me I was too late to see my mom alive. I can still visualize the doctors walking around the entrance in skeleton costumes and other gruesome Halloween disguises. The next few days, however, are a blur. (My girlfriend at the time got very angry at me for neglecting her and perhaps I did but I have no recollection.) The next event I remember was the cremation and reception several days later. And that reception defined one of the wonderful things about my mother.

The first group of friends to arrive were members of the National Capital Runners' Association. My mom had been an avid runner, often winning medals in her "Little Old Ladies" category and quietly pinning them up in her den. She (and my father) had won the NCRA Phidippides Award for their years of editing the NCRA newsletter, as well as organizing many races and events.

Next came members of the Bells Corners Arts League. Mom was a prolific artist in an embroidery medium called Trianglepoint that forced - and enabled - development of geometric patterns from equilateral triangles of wool. She had mastered the production technique quickly (although pictures took a long time to complete) but she was always experimenting with and challenging the constraints of those triangular matrices. Once or twice she organized the BCAL summer arts sale and one other year one of her Trianglepoints won the Best in Show award. (She also sold a lot of pictures.)

Finally came members of the Cityview Nepean Horticultural Society. They had (I think) Spring, Summer and Fall garden judging contests and she was famous for winning, and thus being ineligible for the next year's contest, and then winning it again. (Mom earned a certificate in horticulture from Guelph University too.) Mom was often elected to the CNHS board and contributed to beautification of the community through both her gardening and her organization skills.

The amazing thing at the reception was than almost no members of any of these groups had known how busy Mom had been with all the others. They all thought she worked tirelessly for their own group. And that's what she had done.

That way she helped people is one of the things I miss about her and one of the things I have tried to learn from her.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

“What I did last summer”

I have arrived in Central African Republic and will travel tomorrow to Boguila, where I will work for Medecins sans Frontieres for the next year. This concludes an extraordinary summer that began when I left Pakistan at the end of March.

In these five and a half months:

I visited the UK, Canada, Haiti, Mexico, USA, the Netherlands, France and Germany.

I travelled in 16 planes, innumerable trains and innumerable automobiles, but also the world's largest ferry, trams, subways, buses, and the San Francisco cable car. Five of six of my Amtrak trains arrived over an hour late. My one Via Rail train arrived early. Huge thanks to Warren for arranging a free Air Canada flight. Air Canada is the world's best airline.

I slept in hotels, trains, houses, planes, a tent, that ferry, and an airport floor. Deep and grateful thanks to my hosts Tima, Dad, Julia, Lynnette, Jacqueline and Annemalaria.

I got new tattoos in Mexico and the Netherlands.

I volunteered with J/P HRO in Haiti, making maps of cholera interventions, rubble removal sites, and a 30,000 person IDP camp. Rainn Wilson and I schlepped through deep mud to GPS the camp's water points, latrines, solar lamps and other infrastructure. He's the salt of the earth. Sean Penn is a genuine humanitarian and he is staying the course for an incredibly vulnerable community.

Mexico was the only new country and it is now one of my favorites. I was based mostly in Merida, where I reunited with a very special friend, made wonderful new friends, and explored the Yucatan. I'm going to blog separately about Mexico as soon as possible, but I can't wait to mention that I swam with a whale shark and a manta ray.

The best part of the summer was meeting dozens of wonderful new friends and reuniting with so many other wonderful friends from my past. I am going to try very hard to write to you all before this year is out.

Life is about to change as I'm making a complicated career readjustment. Time will tell all, but so far I love Medecins sans Frontieres and Central African Republic.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Reader permissions

I have decided to limit access to my blog to invited friends. I've added a bunch of names and will try to work out how to accomodate any others that request. If anybody is interested...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

From "How Green Was My Valley"

"It do seem to me that the life of man is merely a pattern scrawled on Time, with little thought, little care, and no sense of design. Why is it, I wonder, that people suffer, when there is so little need, when an effort of will and some hard work would bring them from their misery into peace and contentment."

"How Green Was My Valley" by Richard Llewellyn, 1939

Monday, August 22, 2011

Updated Contries I've Visited web page

List of eligible countries (where I've slept at least one motionless night)

List of ineligible countries (where I have set foot but not slept at least one motionless night)

Saturday, August 20, 2011


I have edited and restructured my portraits here.

Amsterdam Botanic Garden

Here are some snapshots of the Amsterdam Botanic Garden shot yesterday.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

From "How Green Was My Valley"

"It is very strange to think back like this, although come to think of it, there is no fence or hedge around Time that has gone. You can go back and have what you like if you remember it well enough."

"How Green Was My Valley" by Richard Llewellyn, 1939

From "How Green Was My Valley"

"It has always seemed to me that there is something big to be felt by a man who has made up his mind to leave the things he knows and go off to strange places."

"How Green Was My Valley" by Richard Llewellyn, 1939

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

First in a new series: favorite quotations

"Perhaps the sexual life is the great test. If we can survive it with charity to those we love and with affection to those we have betrayed, we needn't worry so much about the good and the bad in us. But jealousy, distrust, cruelty, revenge, recrimination ... then we fail. The wrong is in that failure even if we are the victims and not the executioners. Virtue is no excuse."

"The Comedians" by Graham Greene (1966)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Please take this quiz and feed a child in the Horn of Africa

For every person who takes the World Food Programme's short quiz on the Horn of Africa hunger crisis, a child will be fed. Please take the quiz and then spread the word.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Art sale

I was recently delighted that an Ottawa firm called TaraSpan acquired this and five more of my photographs of India for their art collection.

The prints are reproduced here.

TaraSpan accelerates value creation and business growth for both emerging and established technology companies by providing highly effective entry in to the rapidly expanding India marketplace.

I sincerely thank Melinda Manson and TaraSpan CEO and co-founder, Mike Manson, for their patronage.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

BBC article geography error

In this article the BBC say that the British Royals sailed 'up' the St. Lawrence from Montréal to Québec City. As a geographer and obsessive BBC-corrector I have duly informed Aunty that they mean 'down'.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

One BBC article - two errors!

This interesting story on BBC online has two bloopers:

"The botnet, known as TDL, targets Windows PCs and tries hard to avoid detection and even harder to shut down."

"The majority of victims, 28%, are in the US but significant numbers are in India (7%) and the UK (5%). Smaller numbers, 3%, are found in France, Germany and Canada."

I'm allowed to make mistakes - I'm an untrained amateur. But the BBC should try harder.

I'm pestering their complaints page.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


A few friends have patiently asked where I've been over the past year.

I think I vaguely reported on my Asian travels (Russia, South Korea, Thailand, Myanmar) which were interrupted by an invitation to support the 2010 flood response in Pakistan. I never closed the loop by returning to Afghanistan.

I worked nine months in Pakistan and expected to continue until May 31 but a government reshuffling left me out of a job (with IOM) and I returned to Canada.

Recently I accepted an opportunity to volunteer for a month with a small NGO in Haiti and I arrived this morning. Getting here was quite a self-imposed adventure because I did as much of the route as possible by train.

Ottawa to Montreal was easy, and it gave me my first night in that lovely town since about 2000.

Montreal to New York was slow because of reduced speed limits along the shores of the record-high level of Lake Champlain. We got about two hours behind schedule but caught up a lot on the dash from Albany to NYC.

I had a wonderful night in NYC and then started what should have been a 27 hour, 40 minute ride. At about 2am, however, a freight in front of us had a minor derailment and we had to wait three hours for it to be re-railed and the track inspected. Then we had an even more bizarre delay.

Apparently, an impatient motorist was in a hurry to get to work and drove around the crossing barriers and we hit the back of her car. The engineers slammed on the brakes and the first thing I knew was the conductors storming back down the train to see how bad things were at the grade crossing. Apparently they were flummoxed to find ... no car. Soon though they found the rear bumper and part of the trunk and deduced that she had driven off. The police took the prize evidence - her license plate - and within half an hour she had been brought from her office back to the scene of the investigation. The train crew calmly explained that had it been a fatality we would be stuck for at least three hours but in this case, once the police report was submitted we were back on our way. But we got to Miami over four hours late.

The best things that happened in Miami were:

1) floating in my motel pool;
2) discovering the Miami arts scene (and watching a great art house movie);
3) realizing I was staying in Little Haiti, where the hurricane alert signs are in English, Spanish and Creole, and, best of all,
4) discovering a restaurant that I will add to my World Favorites List: 'Anise' ( which has the best of food and atmosphere and service.

And then I flew to Port-au-Prince.

Not allowed to use Facebook - a blessing in disguise

Hello Blogosphere,

I'm volunteering for a month in Haiti and just learned that we are not allowed to use Facebook (not only while on duty but at anytime in the compound). This comes at a time when I've been feeling increasingly guilty and remiss because I have not been blogging regularly in months (and never really did a good job ever). As many of my friends know (but as certain others pointedly don't know), Facebook makes communication so easy but it is too exclusionary. While the majority of the world are unconnected, at least those who are online can see most blogs without signing up to anything evil.

An additional issue is that I thought I had no means of explaining this to my Facebook friends.

After lamenting this for a while I suddenly realized that a) my blog forwards to Facebook and b) this is a good kick in my Internet-ass to update my blog.

So... my next post will be a brief update on the last year or so.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

BBC Style, accuracy and grammar

I have often said that the three best things to come from Britain are the Beatles, Marmite and the BBC. But sometimes I wonder about that last one.

The BBC's on-line presence seems to be making more and more style, accuracy and grammar mistakes. I often report them to their feedback site, including this example which pertains to my greatest fear - general public acceptance of apostrophes misplaced into plurals.

"One proposal that was approved was a requirement that unopposed candidate's for the company's board receive a majority in order to be appointed." [link]

Or perhaps I'm just very old-fashioned.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Australian Floods: 35 confirmed + 9 missing presumed dead vs Pakistan Floods: 1,985 dead.

New Zealand earthquake: 75 dead vs Haïti earthquake: 316,000+ dead.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Death of Libraries (at least in the Developed World)

The BBC just ran a debate on "Are libraries finished? Five arguments for and against" amid the threat of closure for 400 British libraries.

This is something I've been thinking about.

The BBC's five arguments for the survival of libraries were:

1. Specialist research
2. Environment to learn
3. Expert staff
4. Free internet access
5. Engage in local democracy

The five counter-arguments were:

1. Searchability
2. Digital books
3. Comfort in numbers
4. Brings niches together
5. Self-publishing

I am not automatically in favor of new technology but I am thoroughly persuaded by the counter-arguments. I say turn the libraries into social centres (with free Internet access) and don't look back.

Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like

Thanks to my friend Helen I have discovered this hilarious-because-it's-true site about Expat Air Workers: Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like. (It makes me think I have some expat cred...)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Six weeks into Metafitnosis

I've been going to the gym three days a week for six weeks now. I feel better, my stamina has improved ... but I've gained 4Kg.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


I am still working through my pictures from my Asia trip last summer. These are from Bagan, in Myanmar. There are a lot of them because there was a lot to see.

Please also see my Bagan to Mandalay photos.