For obvious reasons, 2002 has been unusual for Lori and I. I have found it surprisingly
difficult to isolate a pure best or worst day of 2002. Rather, I have found myself
reflecting on countless memorable or intensely emotional moments, throughout the year. Given
that there are no particular rules to our New Years tradition, I am approaching this year a
(On reading this, Lori tells me that it is very formal...not my intent. As you read
this, please picture me sucking on a beer and farting explosively - "it must have been the
cheese at breakfast!!", I exclaim defensively.)
MOST SURREAL MOMENT: 3:00 AM, September 13. After 36 hours of travel with little sleep,
we landed in Addis and were greeted by a cool breeze, a very ugly terminal and a
handful of friendly Ethiopians. After collecting our bags, we were packed into a rickety
bus and drove to the hotel. The bus was buzzing with noise: people talking, things
rattling, engine roaring. The streets of Addis were completely dark and empty - through the
gloom, we could make out countless tin-roofed shacks, dusty streets, dogs darting amongst the
garbage. We started chatting to the people in the seat in front of us - a couple from
Saskatoon. Within 2 minutes, we were discussing the likely fortunes of the Vancouver
Canucks this season. We soon realized that we had been to the same Canucks game that
past spring. We had been in the same room together (albeit a big one) and we were now here.
(Jamester: those Canucks ARE doing well! At one point, first in the league - can they sustain?)
WORST MOMENT: On my field trip through the deep south of Ethiopia, we stopped at a small
town, outside of Jima, to have a flat tire repaired (the second of five flats on the trip). This
town was particularly gritty - its sole purpose is to serve as a market hub for the
surrounding hills. The arrival of a white guy in a 4WD is rare and, thus, I was the source of
intense attention. I found a shady spot and tried to keep a low profile. At one point, a
highly disabled fellow approached me. He had no legs and moved around by sitting on his butt
and propelling himself using his hands. He asked for money.
Let me back up for a moment: Begging is extensive in Ethiopia. It is a necessary part of the
society since, for many, there is no other means of getting food. While the firenj are
targeted in particular, wealthy Ethiopians also are asked; giving money is an accepted and
expected practice of the wealthy class. But one simply cannot give money to everyone that asks
and thus one has to be discriminating as to whom and how much one hands out. My practice
lacks any logic. It depends on many things: is this the first or the fortieth person
to ask? did I just finish an expensive meal? by giving now, am I committing myself to two
years of hassle from the same person?
To return to my story, I search my pockets and find only a single 20 sentim
coin (worth about four cents CDN - in Ethiopia, five of them will get you a coke). I give him
the coin and he hobbles away. After another 20 minutes, the car is ready and I climb into
the front passenger seat. While I am waiting, the disabled fellow returns and starts
hammering on the window. He is clearly angry - unsatisfied with what I gave. I ignore him,
staring straight ahead. In a fit of pure frustration, he manages (somehow, I donít know how) to
reach the top of the slightly open window and shove the coin into the car. He glares at me,
and then he turns around and hobbles away.
Iím not sure what it all means - I just know that, sitting in my fancy car, this guy with
no money and no legs had enough pride to say "fuck-you" to me and my insignificant coin.
(picture me running outside and trying to spell my name in the snow)
BEST MOMENT: It has been only one week from this moment so it hasnít passed the test of
time. Nonetheless, I believe it is worthy. For three days last week, we attended the VSO
conference in Addis. As you can appreciate, my presence amongst the other volunteers is
low profile. I lack the boisterousness or verbal wit required to stand out. Keep in mind,
also, that most of the volunteers are teachers and enjoy an audience. How can a dumb-fuck
engineer compete? Nonetheless, for the Saturday night Talent Show, I quietly signed up to
read a poem. I had written a humorous rhyme about the Amharic language course that eight of
us had attended.
On the night of the show, the crowd was very warm and excited. I was scheduled near the
end of the show and, thus, the crowd was also quite drunk. Most of the acts were group
music acts, with costumes, choreography and plenty of enthusiasm. As the only solo act, I
approached the stage in a low-key manner. To quote Neil (Awassa volunteer), "I was cringing as
you approached the microphone - what were you going to do?" I had asked to be introduced as
"Keet". You guys know the story of my name from an earlier email - the punch line
is, "to 65 million Ethiopians, I am an asshole". So I tell that joke and the crowd
howls. I go on to the poem and receive a great response. In the end, I won second
prize and all the volunteers look at me differently now.
(I need another beer - anyone getting one?)
BEST DAY: Last spring, the bike gang planned an epic farewell ride for me in Squamish. The
five of us (Darlana, Tracy, John, Ken and I) have rode together once or twice a week for
the past year. For over six hours that day, we rode countless trails - some easy, some
terrifying. There were two sections that had caused me grief in the past: one had
tossed me into a swamp and the other had given me a three-month elbow injury. I managed
to overcome my fear and ride both of them. At the end of the day, completely exhausted, we
went to Darlanaís house for a BB-Q. The day epitomizes riding for me: a wonderful combination
of physical ability, mental challenge and supportive, rarely competitive, friendship. And the
topper is that there is a great photo of the five of us from that day, with the Squamish valley
in the background.
(picture me passed out on the couch)
Have a Happy New Year!