Nine!

Well, our youngest turned nine. This birthday marks just the second time she’s been in Canada on the day of her birth. We’ve been in Canada for over 4 months now, meaning this is the second-longest length of time (and 3rd time ever) that little A has been here. Being born in France, and having spent {checks notes} over half her life in Burundi, celebrating in Canadain birthdays are few and far between, so it was nice to be here.

While trying to stay socially connected and physically distant we had a party in our back yard with some family.

The day before her birthday we got to celebrate with Grandma out in Camrose

Earlier in the afternoon, the girls went out and she came back pretty excited to have pierced ears.

Not surprisingly, as birthday wishes came in over the day, it seems like “fire-cracker” or something very similar is the most common way of describing Alma. I think that our job of raising a strong woman should not be all that hard with this one.

She is strong, fast, brave, really funny, and loves those around her well. She lights up the room (again, more fire-cracker, less flickering candle) and is always game for something.

Anyway, here are some pictures of what she’s been up to in the past 12 months.

fulfilling her “life-long dream” of actually seeing, touching, and riding a horse
just reading…. #KibuyeStyle
In the Rockies this summer
Church friends
She decided she wanted to see just how long she could keep a tooth that was just barely hanging on. Answer: too long.

14

So Micah turned 14 yesterday.

Kenya – February

We were all together. We were in one place. We were not currently packing or unpacking bags. We weren’t getting on a plane, didn’t just get off one, or have immediate plans to get on one. That in itself sets this birthday for him apart from quite a few that have preceded it.

Last year he turned 13 in Kenya dropping off J& M at school.

he turned 12 in Kenya dropping off J & M at school

he turned 11 in Canada the day Jonah and I flew back to Kenya

he turned 10 in Kenya when we were dropping off Jonah for his first year at RVA

he turned 9 in Rwanda when we had temporarily evacuated there.

He turned 8 when we were travelling through Michigan the summer we were home between France and Burundi.

Birthdays 7, 6, 5, and 4 were in France. His fourth was supposed to be in Iceland, but we ended up moving to France just a week or so before his 4th birthday.

3, 2, 1 and the day of his birth were in Canada.

So if one could gather anythign from this pattern it’s: we move around a fair bit. Micah’s birthday seems to always happen when we’re activly moving around somewhere.

Not this year.

Watching Matea play soccer at RVA in February

This has been a big year for Micah. We’ve been through a lot as a family, and he’s been through a lot. An early end to an abbreviated school year, moving back to Canada for a few months in the midst of a pandemic, getting ready to leave home for school in Kenya in Sept, then preparing to start high school online until January. And all that is just the last 6 months, after what we went through in February.

So … i guess all of that means it’s a year worth celebrating. Celebrating that he’s made it through all that, and it still doing well. That he’s

and i suppose if “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” then he’s become a lot stronger over the past year. And he has definitely gotten stronger this year.

So here’s to our strong, resilient, thoughtful boy. Proud of the young man he’s becoming -and proud to be his parents.

…and, here’s some pictures of what being 13 looked like for Micah

Tanzania – last August
Rocky Mountains…last week
kayaking in the cold rain by Hinton – July
Finishing up school – April
Back home in Kibuye – March
travelling to Tanzania for camping last Christmas
hanging with the Nuns at the local orphanage
a chicken that was a gift. or giving it to someone. or both. this seems to happen fairly regularly
no longer even close to the realm of “as tall as Mom”

La Vie en Noir

{PART OF THE MEA CULPA SERIES OF POSTS _ where I post things I should have written a long time ago… yeah…that’s on me. Apparently I reposted this in Dec 2019 during my MEA CUPLA series…but this one was tagged 2011 so it showed up not as a new post.}

{{{This is a post I apparently wrote in 2011, while living in France. Not sure if it was intentional, but I never published it to the blog. So here it is. Despite really wanting to edit it now, I left it exactly as I found it, except for one typo’d sentence that was really unclear. I decided to let my 2011 self speak for himself.}}}}}

So I’ve had two people comment that from the sounds of this blog – all is rosy in La France.  It’s probably true that I have at some level not sounded off about what bothers me more about living here. That probably comes from just by being an ex-pat in a foreign country you tend to bump into lots of others here as a non-native.  And if there is one thing that seems to come easy in that situation is all too often a rather scathing,  often unending, critique of the French, their culture, the way they drive, their bureaucracy, the schools etc. etc.

I have made a very conscious effort since arriving here to try to disallow myself from falling into that trap for two reasons:

  1. the French didn’t invite me here – I chose to come
  2. the French didn’t ask for my input – it’s their country

There are I think a number of mitigating factors that make living in France quite enjoyable.

One – we’ve lived here before – so we kind of knew what we were in for with some things.  We knew what to be prepared for, remembered what kinds of things tended to be annoying last time – and set our expectations accordingly.

The second factor is that while France is a very foreign place compared to Edmonton – it’s not the kind of place where I stick out like a sore thumb as I would in South-East Asia, or in Africa.  If you were to see me walking down the street – I would (at least I think) look no more out of place than I do back home. Perhaps a bit above average height – but that’s about it. We could be from here – and it’s not until people actually hear us speaking that they know we’re not from here. And even then – there are lots of expats etc living in the Grenoble area – so it’s not likely we’re the first people that someone has run into that does not have French as their first language.  There are lots of North African Arabs in the city, the Universities attract a lot of African and Asian students – so I imagine me being here is nothing like a tall white dude walking around downtown Kampala.

I think the other thing to me that makes a lot of the issues more tolerable – is that in a lot of ways the things that can be annoying – are often just massive pendulum swings of things that I find annoying about North American culture.

Here: the customer hardy seems right  – but back home I find “the customer is ALWAYS right” to breed a fake sense of appreciation by store clerks, lots of entitlement by customers, and a generally synthetic exchange between the two.

Here you seem to have to wait in line, all the time, for a long time, for no apparent reason – it is really maddening.  However, this causes me to think about how everything back home MUST be done as soon as possible, in the least amount of time, in the fastest possible manner – no matter what.

Yes- the bureaucracy here is astounding, the time delay and paperwork required to get anything done (we still don’t have our French health coverage etc – which we started applying for last September) is at times beyond what can be imagined. However, I have yet to meet a French person who does not share that frustration.

So yes, there are a  number of things that I find difficult about living here – but in all honesty a lot of it is not living here specifically – but being outside of my comfort zone, being in a foreign place, living someplace where things do not come naturally, my reflexes and instincts more often fail, and the obvious answer to me usually does not apply.

majestic

There’s a lot of ways to describe the Rocky Mountains, but the one that seems to come the most naturally, and the most frequently, is majestic. We’ve lived in the Alps for years, but there really is something about these mountains that is truly unique. Our family has been incredibly fortunate to get a few camping trips out into the mountains over the last little while.

Our first trip proved how fickle the weather is in the mountains, and despite it being July, we were hit with freezing cold weather and smacked with a thundering hailstorm. Camping up by Jasper we tried to get some hikes in but kept getting rained out. The kids did get a nice paddle in down a creek that connected several lakes. We did at one point have to meet the kids at a bridge and have them pull the boats out so we could throw Matea in the car and rush her to Hinton where a friend of a friend allowed her to borrow a desk and internet so she could write her last final exam. Not likely the most ideal situation for scholarly work, but our kids have learned few things more than flexibility and working in sub-optimum conditions.

This week we headed south to Kananaskis, closer to Banff. We got some nice hikes in, saw some amazing scenerey and had a great time overall.

It was a full-mountain experience including waking up to a grizzly bear a few meters from our tent the first morning. A conservation officer came to shoo it away, then a mother and her cub showed up and walked through the campground. So quite a bit of authentic mountain experience before breakfast!

SNOW!!!

We went on hikes three days in a row, totaling about 40km. It was quite a bit – especially if you are an 8 year old! However, it was all easily worth it in her mind, because SHE SAW SNOW. This was a pretty big deal for Alma. She started asking as soon as she found out we were going to the mountains, and whenever she saw snow up on the peaks asked if we could hike up there.

Why yes, yes I DO want to build a snowman.

One ‘little hiccup” on our third day hiking was a broken fibula, which Nicole had to walk the 5km back down the mountain on. So – that was kind of a rough ending to a great weekend

An amazing time in the

Beautiful

Majestic

Canadian

Rocky Mountains*

*you’re supposed to read that last bit like Roman Mars from the podcast 99 Percent Invisible. If you don’t know what that should sound like – you really ought to give it a listen. One of my favourite podcasts of all time.

Stress Testing Everything

There is a product design theory that says f you really want to find out if something will do its normal job well, look for how it works when it’s stressed. Sometimes this is done via extreme users and extreme use situations. Designers will give a new keyboard design to a hardcore computer gamer, or conversely, try a new car design with someone who’s never driven before. To see if the design of your carrot peeler will work well for most people, you give it to seniors or someone with Parkinson’s.

Just plain worn out.

When we lived in France I knew some product engineers for heavy equipment design at Caterpillar. They would drag those things up to the glacier by the ski town of Val d’Isere as they could expose the machines to extreme temperatures and basically try to break them.

I remember as a kid IKEA used to have a similar thing in its giant maze-like stores. Inside a plexiglass case was a chair, or kitchen cabinet, which looked exactly like the ones for sale next to the see-through box. However, inside was a kind of abuse-robot, that mimicked opening and closing a drawer, but did it once every 3 seconds, all day, every day. There was a digital counter and you could see that the thing had already endured the equivalent of several decades of normal use.

THIS.
This is what it sometimes feels like is happening to us right now.
In many ways we are all the chair -and we’re going to find out just how much we can take before we break.

Similar stress-testing is done by cardiologists who make someone with a heart condition walk on a treadmill to see how their heart can handle a full cardio load, or by regulators trying to see if banks of other institutions can handle theoretical disaster scenarios.

The idea is that if you want to know how well something works, you try to break it. If you want to know how well it will hold up, you stress it out. If you want to see how and when it will bend, or become misshaped, or become a deformed version of itself, you must push it past what it normally would endure. That’s how you find when it will break, and where.

Honestly, it feels right now like the systems we have that in many ways we as societies are being put through a stress test. The COVID pandemic and its responses are pushing us as individuals and collectively as societies, in many instances to the breaking point.

If you hold the unwavering belief that the free market is always right, that government interference only brings inefficiency, there are situations now that push that. What about if entire industries (like air transport) seem to be (or seemed to be when I started writing this) on the verge of collapsing. Should the government jump in and help out those companies when they risk failing? If free-market economics work, then someone’s price gouging on hand sanitizer should not be stopped. Supply and demand working together to arrive at the ‘correct’ price are one of the most fundamental underpinnings of free-market economics. A few months ago there were stories of people buying up all the disinfectant wipes at a Costco and then reselling them at a massive markup out of their car. The general consensus was outrage. So if people shouldn’t be ‘gouging’ prices of Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer and toilet paper when it’s hard to get, why can movie theatres charge more on a weekend or prices of plane tickets around Christmas?

Should responses be controlled at a national level, or left up to local authorities? Some places are seeing widespread coordinated efforts, others where disjointed responses are hampering efforts. Some are seeing centralized control ignore regional differences, and others have local responses that seem apprpriate

to the breaking point…and then a bit more

Just last night we were talking with someone who said they knew three different marriages that have broken up since the start of this pandemic. Seems that both people being at home essentially all the time was a new kind of stress test.

The way we educate kids seems to be stress tested. What is the role of the classroom, of teachers, of elementary education? How can it work if it is forced to fundamentally shift?

Should we be for “our country first”, close our borders in case of problems, and look out for ourselves? What about when we need to coordinate on vaccine development or need international cooperation to solve these complex problems.

Related, we are part of a larger group of people working together as a society – until there is a perceived shortage of something- then I take what I think I need for myself.

I don’t think the stress test is showing that these things: free-market economics, nationalism, individualism etc. are wrong. I think that we’re just seeing their limits in more acute ways than we normally do. In many ways, it’s a good opportunity to see limits and to understand more the benefits and potential shortcomings of all these things that we often don’t question.

I think we’re probably even feeling it in the church. Over the past few centuries, much of the church has focused on “the Sunday morning service” as its raison d’etre, And even more so, “the sermon”, that 20 minutes or so monologue sits at its core for many. Now that most people in the world are streaming these things to their living room, I think we’re starting to feel the deficit in this perspective. In the Bible, the church is described as a body, as a family, as a community. Never as a lecture hall or theatre or living museum.

Some churches follow a style dripping with tradition to lend authority, others have lasers and close-ups of singers with fancy hair to prove cultural relevance. But these things must be losing their impact on almost everyone as they are streamed on a screen from your brunch table.

Honestly, my biggest hope is that at the end of this pandemic, we won’t go back to ‘normal.’ There were so many things that we did just because we did them, and now we are finally in a position to question them. Cities and towns that closed-off downtown streets to cars are realizing that a walkable downtown is actually possible. Flexibility in the way that people work that helps families. New understanding of how our kids are educated. Clearer insight into our very relationships as we spend time together in new ways.

This current season is one of loss – unprecedented loss for many people on the planet. At the very least we owe it to ourselves to learn something from it. So that collectively the giant scar that is left from this pandemic will lead to not just us telling our grandkids stories of ‘how bad it was’ but also “that’s when we learned to…”