Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On giving: a spare kidney and Got Bannock.

I have been thinking a lot about giving. I guess that the impetus may be the time of year- there is a lot of energy spent on encouraging people to give in way or another. But I have run into a couple of stories of people who are giving much more beyond buying a gift and wrapping it up.

 On my Facebook feed I saw a link to a story about an acquaintance-Carol Penner. This past year she underwent an operation to remove one of her kidneys. There was not anything wrong with it, in fact it was very healthy. She had heard of a program that matches people in need of a new kidney with other people-strangers-who are willing to donate one of their kidneys and whose blood type matches the one in need. Carol decided that this was something she was able to give and did so. The Canadian Broadcasting radio story is in the link and her story is the first one. It is worth listening to see why one woman would put herself through the stress of a major operation to help one stranger.
If you would rather read a short article about her  see here .

Another woman who I have gotten to know a little bit this year is Althea Guiboche aka The Bannock Lady. She came to my awareness this March when I read some news stories about her in the Winnipeg news. She had noticed a big need in Winnipeg and took up the responsibility of helping to fill that need. She makes bannock and soup and chilli and once a week takes it to a street corner in the North End of Winnipeg to hand out to hungry people. Her motto is "in honour of the village we once had". She knew that traditionally in First Nations villages when someone had food that it would be given to all who had need until it was all gone. Some of the tradition has been lost and many First Nations people have found themselves in the North End of a big city where life has become much more individualistic.

Althea writes about herself on Facebook:"  I make the bannock that feeds the people I work for, I make the soup, I gather the donations, I compile it all and I do most of it on my own! It's a 100 hour a week job and I love it! I am a single parent to 7, I am a published poet and author, currently in 8 anthologies and am part of Idle No More!
I am a voice for the homeless and hungry, having been homeless myself I feel I have earned the right to speak on behalf of the less fortunate!

Miigwetch (thank you in the Ojibway language) for all the support and am always welcoming others to help In Honour Of The Village We Once Had"

Althea (the Bannock Lady) on a bitterly cold night celebrating the anniversary  of the Idle No More movement. On this night a truckload of winter clothes was handed out to those who needed the warmth. (photo by Doug Thomas) 

This is a very big bannock which is  a bread made of flour, water, baking powder and some sort of fat. (photo taken from the Got Bannock Facebook page)
So, in December I decided that there was something that I could do to help out both Got Bannock and another organisation that feeds the hungry of Winnipeg four times a week. I took a small flier to 50 homes in my neighbourhood to tell them that I would be coming around 3 days later to collect food to donate to  Got Bannock and Crossways in Common. It was a cold Friday evening when I went out with my shopping trolley to see whether people would respond. I did get reprimanded several times for being out on such a bitter night, but I knew that some of the people who will receive the food do not have a nice warm house to head back to. I bundled up warmly and set out again.

My zebra shopping trolley was filled up again and again with canned goods and rice and pasta.

One person was not home so left me a note and a big bag of groceries in her mailbox.

The bags of groceries that I collected. Some people brought their food to my house because they were not home on that Friday evening.
I made contact with the volunteers of Got Bannock who help Althea and one came by my house to pick up the food. A couple of days later the Got Bannock Facebook site had this message.

"A great big Bannock shout out to Kathy Moorhead Thiessen for the big load of supplies she gathered by going door to door in her own neighbourhood. Thank you for helping us Honour the Village we Once Had through your spirit of sharing."

So.... giving, being able and willing to take something you have to give it to someone else.  Whether it is a kidney, or a whole lot of time or a little bit of time or two large bags of groceries or even a couple cans of tomato soup.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

To market, to market.....

Now is the time of year to make many visits to the malls and large box stores that encircle the edges of our city. Once inside there is Christmas music playing to get you into the mood for buying. Glittery decorations are hung with care from the ceiling and the earnest cashiers smile and ask you if you have found everything that you wanted to find. I used to think that I liked walking around these malls, if I had nothing to buy. I liked to watch the shoppers and perhaps look for opportunities to make some grumpy shopper happier. This year however, I am quite content to stay away from the large stores unless I have some very deliberate thing to buy that can not be found anywhere else.

One of the largest malls in Winnipeg
 Just before I left Iraqi Kurdistan in June I passed by  the celebrations for the opening of a brand new mall along the main street of Sulimani.

I felt sad, although, I guess I have no right to feel that way. Why should not the Kurds of Sulimani be able to have malls just like I have in Canada? But, I feel sad because I know what the advent of such large, glitzy places of enterprise can do to the little shops. They are forced to close down and thus all we have left is to go to the big franchise shops on the outskirts. [An example of this is the closure of 3 family hardware stores on Henderson Highway near to our house. Now we have to travel several miles away to the large box Rona or Home Depot to buy tools or nails. And they only come in plastic wrapped containers. And I must buy the amount that is packaged rather than the three nails I really need,]
I don't want that to happen in Iraqi Kurdistan. The tiny shops in the bazaar/souk/market contain the real life, contact and bustle of people. I try to find excuses to walk down to the bazaar especially around 3:30 pm on a week day. That is the time when people start getting off work and the bazaar suddenly bursts to life. The vendors with carts come out of their hiding places and set up shop. And the population of Sulimani flock to the streets and bazaar lanes to find new goods and used goods and fresh meat and produce for the evening meal.
So I have some photos of this time at the Sulimani bazaar. People who were pleased to have me take their photo and others unaware. The exchange of paper Iraqi dinars for Turkish seasonal produce,  goods made in China, and even occasionally something grown locally.
 For meat or pets? But I have never seen one escape.
You won't find these in the winter time.

 500 ID per kilogram (let's say around $0.40)
 This man gave me a free pomegranate to take home for my mother in law. Ymm! pomegranates.

The tea man sets up his wares on the sidewalk.
Fish for supper?
These village women bring items grown or collected in the rural areas.
 These are a berry that grows in the spring: eaten green and when it is ripe and also made into prayer beads. It is good for a queasy stomach too.
 Another spring vegetable- ginger-(hard g's). It is the root of a very prickly plant.
This salesman was very proud of his immature chickpeas.
The vendor sits in front of the "Large Mosque" creating and selling strings of prayer beads.
And if you are feeling a bit hungry there are street food sellers willing to sell you something good to eat. These are large pods of beans boiled and then sprinkled with sour sumac.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The house came down....

A couple of weeks ago the yards of two houses along my regular walking route had many big trees cut down. Vic and I hypothesized that this was a sign that those old buildings were going to disappear soon, probably to allow new construction to go up. Sure enough today as I walked to the bank there were large tractors with huge “mouths” crunching down both of the houses.

 I stood by the fence for a few minutes and watched the men work. Nobody else paid much attention.  I noticed the juxtaposition of  the closet with many coat hangers beside the monster shovel and took a photo. When I returned 15 minutes later the coat hangers were buried and the houses were only piles of broken boards riddled with exposed nails.
 I thought a lot of things as I watched the destruction:

 -I wished that I could go beyond the orange plastic barricade to pick up free wood to use in future projects like building raised beds for my garden.

 -how fast the coming down is as compared to the going up.

 -the memories that the pieces of wood held- the sad times and happy times of probably around 60 years of families living in the homes.

 -I transported the scene to Palestine where people watch their houses being destroyed in such a way, without their permission. They do not receive payment of money, in return for their signatures on the dotted line, to allow them to live somewhere else. The best they can hope for is a tent or another attempt at building a house some other year. Although, usually with the hopelessness of gaining a building permit, the likely hood is that the destruction will happen again.

 The dust rose as the shovel fell again and again. The boards and plaster crunched. The house came down.



Thursday, October 31, 2013

Settler searching for the sacred fire

The Facebook call went out- “Solidarity with Elsipogtog ; we will light a sacred fire at 5 pm at the Forks:”

 I gathered my belongings into the plastic milk crate on my trusty one-speed 1960’s bike and headed over the lovely new bike bridge crossing the Red River to the Forks.

  I reached Oodena Circle- a gathering place for many, many centuries, the place of sacred fires at The Forks. No one was there. I watched the people coming down the paths, wondering which of them would be the first to gather. No one came until one indigenous man strode out of his car to peer into the circle. I asked if he was looking for the sacred fire. He replied, ‘yes, but there is a blockade at Portage and Main. There are cops all over the place.” Then I noticed the police helicopter circling above the area.

 Oodena Celebration Circle at the Forks (photo by tripwow.tripadvisor.com )

Part of me thought I should get on my trusty one-speed and head home. The other part remembered my Christian Peacemaker Team training - I wanted to be present, to stand in solidarity with the M’ikmaq people, the Acadian people and the Anglophone people of New Brunswick. This morning they had experienced a violent crackdown on their right to protest. If this was to happen today in Winnipeg, I needed to be a witness. [My CPT colleagues who were in New Brunswick wrote this account of 17 October-here]

On my way to Portage Avenue  and Main Street I passed streams of cars and trucks diverted to roads not usually travelled. The traffic cop helped me to cross the street. I could not hear it but I imagined the grumbling and swearing inside the vehicles, the drivers forgetting that each vehicle burned a sacred substance - the bones and muscles of millions of animals buried deep within the earth and then pumped out to fuel our desire for oil. This was not the sacred fire I searched for.

 As I found the east end of Portage Avenue that was totally empty of cars or people I heard the drumming. I came up to the intersection where no human usually dares to walk and saw a round dance. Police had blocked off all four roads with their cars. A few bikes were laid on the boulevard. I wasn’t sure what to do with my trusty one-speed so I walked with it closer to the circle, my bike helmet on and my face red with exertion.

 I watched and listened. There was a woman sitting in the very center of Portage and Main celebrating an individual pipe ceremony. There was another tiny fire five steps away from her. I thought they were connected - one fueling the other. Later I heard that the fire was the remnants of a burning Canadian flag. This was what the media reports focused on. There was no recognition of why an indigenous person might want to do such an action and no acknowledgement of the deep meaning of the pipe.


As I stood I heard a drum beat come closer and closer to my right ear. I looked and saw one of the women drummers standing right next to me. We looked at each other and she stopped drumming for a minute, taking a beautiful new handbag off her shoulder. It was sewn in the four colours [representing the four colours of all peoples: red, white, black and yellow]. She handed it to me, we looked at each other for another few seconds and she moved on, picking up the beat again.

 I stood in silence again. I had ridden downtown to find a sacred fire. There were no flames rising from the heart of Winnipeg’s biggest intersection, and I hadn’t expected to find any there, but as I thought about it, I knew I had found the sacred fire. Within each of the people standing and drumming and dancing and singing, there were billions of cells. Within each cell were the mitochondria. And within the tiny mitochondria there was the burning of the fuel of food eaten to create energy- the energy for life process such as movement and growth and activism and solidarity.

 This settler of Irish and English ancestry found the sacred fire at Portage and Main in Winnipeg, Manitoba on 17 October, 2013.



Saturday, October 12, 2013

Jingle Dress Healing Dance at Portage Avenue and Main Street, Winnipeg

This morning I woke up early to prepare for a bus ride to the center of Winnipeg. The day was gloomy and I knew that the temperature had dropped during the night  with a bitter wind, creating the first cold autumn day But I wanted to get down to the intersection of Portage Ave and Main Street where a very special event was taking place.

Several months ago I had read an article (reference) about James Anaya, the United Nations Special rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He had first requested to visit Canada in February 2012 and then proceeded to make at least  two more requests. He wanted to come to investigate the human rights situation of Indigenous peoples. However, our government (whose permission he needed to visit Canada) ignored or blocked his request. It was not until this month, October 2013 that he finally was able to come. Today, 12 October, was the day he was coming to Winnipeg.

In celebration of his visit a Jingle Dress  Dance was planned to occur at the main intersection in Winnipeg's downtown. The Jingle Dress and the dances associated with it originated with the Ojibway nation and traditionally have been given  a healing power. " A sacred obligation is carried by women who wear this dress as Jingle dress dancers are often called upon to dance for a sick or injured community member or to help families who are grieving."(reference). 

Thus today was a day to remember the almost 600 indigenous women from Canada who are murdered or missing and the people who are grieving for them. This is a topic that James Anaya will be investigating as recently the  Conservative majority federal government refused  to hold a national inquiry into the documented murders or disappearances.

I was quite early for the dance and when i got to the intersection nobody was there. So I walked down to Tim Horton's for a coffee and a pumpkin donut. As came back I watched people begin to gather. Many had a coffee cup in hand and greeted each other.
As the women wearing jingle dresses gathered you could hear the tinkle of the metal cones that are sewn to the dresses.
A call went out for all women wearing jingle dresses to line up to enter the big intersection as soon as
James Anaya appeared.
Two young dancers hugged each other to try to keep warm in the bitter wind.
The drum went out first, then the dancers followed.

Dancers from Treaty 3
A reporter holds a microphone down to the jingly metal cones to record the sound.
The dancers circled the intersection around the drums and singers

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

On celebration: a healthy, cancer-free baby, oven art and pizza

About a year ago baby Johanna was having her diaper changed when her parent felt a hard lump in her belly.The doctors soon found that both of her kidneys had tumors in them and one was the size of a grapefruit This led to days and months of tests and CAT scans and xrays and chemotherapies and operations.

Just over a month ago she had her last operation when the surgeons removed the last 3 tiny tumors. She still has quite adequate kidney function in both kidneys and scans show no signs of  tumors. She is cancer-free. So her family decided it was time for a party to celebrate.
 Strong and healthy Johanna
The party was held last Sunday afternoon and they invited around 90 people which included everyone who attends Hope Mennonite Church as well as relatives and other friends. The weather forecast threatened rain so a big tent was set up in the front yard. This was because a big part of the celebration was pizza made in the wonderful woodburning mobile oven made by Karen Schlichting. A couple of years ago she received a grant to go towards the creation of the wonderful, very useful, very beautiful art piece. An article about it is here.
Karen has done some very interesting actions with her oven. She has attached it to her van and pulled it to the parking lot of a big huge grocery store called Costco. This store is a place where families come to buy huge grocery carts full of food. Most of this food is imported from other parts of the world. In the parking lot she  baked homemade bread and gave free pieces away to customers who  came to shop there. Her message was that good bread made with wheat that is grown locally and created by hand is the way food should be made.  An article about that action is here

The fire is built in the oven 3 hours before it is needed to cook the pizza or the bread. 
This is the beautiful artwork on the outside of the oven. It is made with tiny squares of glass all glued into the shape of the picture. 
 Many people rode their bikes to the party.

 This was the pizza making station.
 Jeff Thiessen who is a member of my CPT support community helped with the baking. My husband Vic is waiting for the pizza to be cooked.
 The oven is ready to bake the pizza.
 Then Karen cut the pizza into squares and served it to the guests. The man in the glasses is Jason, Johanna's father.
 A young guest watches Karen take out another pizza.
 He puts his hand onto the outside of the oven to check to see how hot it is. The oven is so well insulated that you can not tell that a fire has heated the bricks on the inside.
 Another mosaic- a picture of Gretel who the oven is named after.