Over and over in my mind and through my senses I have tried to sum up this journey. Occasssionally I have come here and recorded its moments in words. I have pasted pictures but a small few to those stored cllectively in our hearts. As a family we have been blessed to have much time together and as Fred says in his last blog "from laughter to sadness". As a couple we even manged to etch out some time that remains special to us and as parents we remain clueless to what impact this will have on Fred but we have seen him grow into a very social person. Compliments of him from people we have meet along this way encourage us. We have also had that chance through the marvel of social media to share but importantly to feel watched over as we journeyed with care and attention.
What did it teach me? That the world and the miniscule part I have seen and experienced is a varied, diverse, rich, poor, strange, surprising, unpredictable, scary, loving, kind, thoughtful and one big interacting cosmos here on earth tha twe should enjoy and rejoice and clearly take care of it. That love and kindness are bigger than hate and judgement but the press seem to tell us the latter! That we are one race (thats a fact in DNA terms) and one citizen of earth. I know that for some people when its all too big and complex, feel left behind by broken promises they feel safer at home and local. I have seen and walked in the fortressess built through the centuries. Its just more of the same. Unless you are brave enough to reach out and keep reaching the walls may become our collective tomb. You dont have to travel to do that. Reach out with kindness and not judgement, reach out with curiousity and not descrimination. Feel proud of your home but treat it like a guest house not a fort. For you will never know when you need to be aguest in anothers home. Love to you all xx
So, this is how I summed up six months on the road.
This beautiful journey
Breath-taking beauty has beguiled us in each step
The wonders of geography offered up like an indulgent feast at a wondrous banquet
Traversing roads and highways lined with colour and drama
Taking in splashes of splendour in every turn
Landscapes to rival the moon to the lush varied greenery that feeds the soul
Sounds of nature that gently soothes the senses
From desert heat that draws your breath to humidity that wets your back
Sun in greater measure but rains that run over us with warm fingers
A journey filled with its own nostalgia as we recall the early discoveries we made
An ending filled with joy of having come so far and shared so much
Yet a touch of sadness as we say goodbye
If what our eyes witnessed was unparalleled beauty
That what we heard from natures mouth, whispering ever enchanting calls, made us mindful
To the tastes and smells that quenched every appetite
Then that which filled our hearts most, was more than all this
Along the way we felt the kindness of strangers
The wonder of friendship made in moments of meeting
The openness of guests
To be witness to people doing more than we could ever imagine with the least amount of opportunity
To be witness to love and kindness, is the beautiful journey we made
Dean Repper, 28th day of December 2016 in Mumbai.
there are long shadows cast on them and tears that form rivers that come winding through the centuries to lay at our feet
from barbarians and armies who rode them into wars not of their creation to loggers who cleared their forests to amusement for crowds of parents and excited children to tourists who wanted to ride like kings of the jungle we have all been there
broken backs and spirits and crushed legs to blown away feet by land mines from our left over wars and the tears that fall hardly scratch our conscience they certainly don't wound us
red eyed by flash from happy snapper tourists until they see no more but who would know from a discarded photo or your Facebook page
gradually we put down the amusement admission tickets and turn away the rides trying to save something of our conscience by signing up to sanctuary parks pushing back hard on the long shadows and finally removing the hook
we create a clearing for the damaged and disabled replacing laughter and ego with compassion to see these great beings able to capture back some freedom even if its an illusion...
Travelling for a long period you ask yourself, and are asked by the circumstances you face, who am I? People who travel to find themselves might ask, when and where did I get lost, rather than ending up in a strange country and unfamiliar culture trying to fathom out who am I. I strongly suspect that those travelling to find themselves end up even more lost.
My problem is not who I am. Travelling has been a pleasure and one of rediscovery of what my likes are and where my boundaries sit. I don't like humid conditions. Miami in August was a pain in the ass and Thailand, while filled with lovely people and great street food, times lacking in variety, is humid. It just takes the edge off, for me. I also like meeting new people, its just I don't want them to be around all the time. Solitude is a strength, or in my case is strength giving. So you travel and you reappraise what suits you. I am who I am. Its a pretty well perfected script. Travelling is not going to re-write the book of Dean. Maybe a few interesting chapters can be added but the plot continues as ever. Or does it?
Exiting Australia became quite interesting (see Rachel's blog for an account). Not for the first time in my life I was asked the question "are you really Dean Repper?" Having failed the facial recognition software I was led aside. The passport had my name and a photo. I was in possession of the passport and I was also in possession of Deans memories. I have to be him surely?
As some close friends will know the issue of whether I am Dean Repper has arisen before. On one occasion I overcame it, having convinced my father that we had shared memories. So while we had not seen each other in about 10 years, I was still the child of his loins. I assume we reached some agreement as he invited me in for cake.
The other occasion was more perplexing. It led me to believe that what we socially construct as 'us' can be fragile, if those in on the conspiracy abandon belief. My best friend from primary school (from about age 8-10) failed to recognise me as Dean Repper. Again, years had passed by. It was a neglected relationship, one left hovering or suspended in a memory for over 12 years, maybe longer. I could put it down to the structural changes our faces can make in the teenage years. However, Gary, my childhood friend, remembered Dean. I like to think he said it fondly. As my feelings at that time, of our friendship and adventures are fondly held. But he was adamant, as I stood on his doorstep, that I was not him. So I thought I was that Dean but he could not accept that proposition.
So had the Australian Border control stumbled upon something? That while I had all these recent memories, experiences with loved ones, shared moments with strangers and a passport with Dean Repper in it, I had been tumbled by a piece of software. That this futuristic piece of AI had seen through the masquerade of the last 56 years. I was not him.
At this point, you have to stay calm. You might say to yourself " fuck if I am not Dean Repper, who am I and how did I get all his memories?". Why did the people around me allow me to continue in this deceit.
Now the Australian Border control did have a slight problem. They pondered this for sometime. If they accepted the AI decision they would have to go through a process to determine who was I. That would mean detaining me. They could send off for dental records and maybe finger prints, as they are on record some where from when I was 14. So they could discover that when I was 14 I was the Dean Repper, standing here. That might help then, but the thought was not so reassuring for me. My childhood friend Gary I left abruptly at 10 years old, not of my choosing, but family events dictated a swift move from Suffolk to London. So, could I prove to the Australians that I was the same Dean Repper that existed at 14, or at least that I had his finger prints at the end of my hands? If I could I could go free, or at least leave Australia. It though does not solve the problem for Gary. Somewhere between 10 and 14 the Dean Repper he could so fondly recall, vanished.
So if we do travel to find ourselves. We need to know when, and maybe where, we got lost. If that was my goal, then I thank the Australian Border control. I think it was between 10 and 14 that I got lost.
I am sitting here by the river with Santiago laying by the side of an old make shift camp fire. One of many of the lost dogs of Latin America I have come to know...momentarily. Some stay longer in hope of food and dare I say company. Others pass by. While travelling through Argentina and Chile I have been taken aback by the number of dogs who roam the streets. Some have owners whom I presume allow them to wonder during the day and even the night. Certainly in the smaller villages. It might be the tell tale sign of a good collar or the superior condition of a dogs coat. But it's a few. When you look in the crowd the lost ones start to stand out and in significant numbers. There must be millions. When I travelled North America it was the homeless lining every street corner that startled me. How could this be in a rich and democratic nation. I come to learn that it is the cost, the byproduct, the toxic waste of a free market gone sour. Maybe when it sweetens, the homeless will be cleared up by the next economic miracle.
We first meet Benji on a street corner in the small idyllic town of an Antonio de Reca. His black coat had a shine but he had no collar. Stoping to say hello he took up with us as we wandered the streets. He sat with us outside the hostel where two others soon joined us. Lulling around on the pavement . Content to sit and take in the idleness of this little town in our company. The next day he sought us out again but as we wandered far from his corner he parted ways. As we gathered our possessions to move on a again we looked for Benji but he could not be seen. Each black dog excited us, was that Benji, no he has white paws, benji was pure black. Benji sloped his shoulders as he approached as if greeting us with a sign of submission. Maybe he had found another corner out of sight.
Lost dogs might not be the true account of the roaming dogs. They wonder free and seem to have a home here on the streets. Maybe they have lost their owners but have found enough kindness of strangers that they have a place in the hierarchy of the towns, countryside and cities. Among themselves they appear to have rules. I never saw any of the roaming dogs fighting, at least not in public. If a leashed dog passed by it might bark and pull the owners leash but the roaming dogs would not be intimated. I liked to think they had a pride in being the vagabonds of the road. Taking the day as they pleased. Enough scraps out there and restaurants they could find food to get by. But the romanticism can be easily shattered.
In Horcon, a sweet and enchanting working village by the sea we meet many dogs. We gave out what we had. As Rachel said when we talked about the dogs " you can only do what you can do at that moment and you do as much as you can". They gathered by the rear of the van as we set up for breakfast in view of the fishermen that had brought in the catch of the day and were preparing them on the gutting tables. Mobbed by seagulls and with pelicans sitting patiently on the wall for the leftovers. In the group was a shy and nervous dog, keeping his distance we could see a severe case of mange, with half his coast missing and black wrinkled skin exposed. Rachel tried her best to entice him and get some food to him. Amidst the group was another dog, a bulldog with a white complexion who looked scarred and had one eye that was a perching blue but the other less attractive. I has seen him earlier nestled by a wall, as if escaping the hustle of the street. You start to realise that life on the street was not always so easy. Dogs are pack animals but I was not sure how well the pack worked for some.
After Horcon we picked up a bag of dog food. If we are going to feed every stray that comes along let's be prepared.
We are not unfamiliar with dogs as we have two jack Russell's and while we know they are in a loving home while we travel we pine for them. Maybe already having a dog bond opens us up to the affection the lost dogs have brought us. Are they serving a need in us more than they need from us but here's the thing. Santiago sits here at my feet and shows no interest in the food I have put out. He follows Rachel down to the stream and waits as she takes a morning bath in its fresh cold invigorating waters. He trots slowly back to the van when she returns. Settling down with us as we take morning coffee. Out here many of the dogs seem to be lone wolves and while they take in the company of other dogs it feels as if they as searching for a human companion. What is it they say, mans best friend is a dog but a dogs best friend might be us, even if it the bond is scratched out of the few hours that we give them. It's hard not to fill Stan the van with them all. But you do only what you can in that moment. Sometimes it has been a stroke when sitting at a park or even as they have passed us by when at a bus station waiting to leave town. Sometimes it can be a few days.
At Baha Inglesia, a small seaside town established some centuries ago by English pirates, that sits on the edge of the desert next to clear blue seas with slow lapping waves washing the sand. Here we meet two special dogs. We had just finished a wonderful lunch that was a fusion of chile and other world flavours. As we passed across the road we are greeted by dusty and smoky. Dusty a blond scraggy coasted fellow the size of a small Labrador and his smaller companion, a scraggy black coated chap with grey highlights. They soon took up with us and followed us down to the beach as we collected sea shells and marvelled at the views across the cove, where I imagined pirates set anchor protected from the view and winds off the Pacific. We took in two days at a deserted camp on the beach with a very amiable host, who made no fuss when we arrived back at camp with dusty and smoky leading the way. After setting out some rules with the two home dogs who lived on the camp, who were not so hospitable at first, they settled in with us. It's fair to say they stole our hearts. That night they set up beds in the sand by the van. The endearing quality of these two were their close bond. Dusty would continuously groom smokey and when smokey followed me down to the beach dusty got quite anxious when he could not find him. Visibly relieved when we returned. It was as if they had set up home together on the streets. Bringing each other much needed friendship. And for those two days they bestowed upon us that friendship. I like to think they will have many happy years together on the road.
Driving many miles we see the lost dogs of Latin America lining the streets and the highways. I catch a glimpse of a pack of four taking a rest in the endless desert where many hours of fast travel separates populations. So for them they must have a long way to go before the next scraps or maybe they find enough out here to keep them going. Sadly I also see the blotted carcasses of the ones who got too close to the fast highways.
Alfred was a large fair haired dog with a shaggy coat that may have once been long flowing locks of shinny hair, but street life and lack of grooming had taken its toll. When I awoke on our first morning he greeted me enthusiastically, paws on my chest and looking keenly in my face. Such a large beast but seemingly with a friendly disposition. That was shattered when he suddenly took upon another dog that approached the van later in the morning. Alfred was clearly a guard dog who had a need to continue his vocation on the campsite, he just required a family to protect. We threw water over the squabbling dogs and they scattered but soon Alfred slinked back, looking apologetic and craving a stroke. He was irresistible so we let him back on camp but kept a careful eye on him, trying to convey that he did not need to protect us.
You can't help wonder where do all these dogs come from. Do they just get up one day and leave home? Are they the result of non-neutered strays? Or are they abandoned as it would appear, Bruce and Hugo were who we encountered at a municipal park at San Jose de Jachal. Just two little puppies, maybe 7-8 weeks fending for themselves. Accompanied by Bella, who we thought was mum but turned out to be just one of a series of dogs they had latched onto. She was gone by morning. We feed and set up blankets in one of the alcoves under the unused stone bbqs, Fred taking watch over them. When you encounter the adult dogs you can fantasise that they have freedom and with enough scavenging get by. Tolerated they sleep and lull where they want for most of the time. Encountering a dog laying in the lobby of a bank is not a sight you would see in England. What we thought were two puppies born in the wild we soon discovered from the local workmen at the park, had been abandoned. Maybe two too many of a litter or just unwanted. As I now listen to Neil Young " only love can break your heart " and update this entry I can recall Rachel sobbing as she held the puppies for one last time. We left the blankets and the last of the dog food and in broken Spanish Rachel asked the workmen to feed them. We can only hope on the kindness of strangers.
There will be no economic miracles here. So the lost dogs I am sure will continue be ever present on the streets for a long long time. They are a part of the landscape and there is something heartening about the fact that can live in some kind of harmony with the folk who go about there days. Seemingly tolerated and maybe sometimes in need of a bit more personal care, especially those who fair less well.
As I sat at the restaurant. The Argentinian man took his lefts overs to the door and gave them to the dog outside. It was a warming sight. I later got to know the dog as Chico and he loved to have a ball thrown for him. In the morning when I was going about the van my watch caught the lights and Chico would chase and bark at the reflection in the sand. We also later discovered he liked to bark at his shadow.
The lost dogs are playful, friendly, respectful and always companionable. I think many of them are free and fair better than those in England, who live a life of false obedience. often owned for the sake of their owners vanity.
At colonial pool and spa inn
Where the rates are low
And where for most time moves slow
A place of lost reputation rising on a tide of sin
Where the American Dream got dropped in the motel trash cart
That now street walkers plunge for discarded treasure
And those trapped in this bottomless pit battle hunger for sure
Residents at the Inn desperately seek a fresh start
But this place must grind you down
The old, the infirm, the addicts, the children, everyone has been sold out
At the colonial Inn you might hear them shout
For fuck-sake stay out of this side of town
I get it
The beautiful coast lines
The sweeping and twisting journeys down great scenic highways
The majestic Redwoods
The meandering rivers
The constant wildlife
So here I am in America
Crossed the border at Seattle with my smuggled bananas
Travelling the bus with ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ as my companion
While outside they tear down old real estate for new real estate
So exactly where are the low cost homes?
And it is not long before I see the herds but these are not zombies
As I wander through Portland and every other city
The homeless gather
Heal to toe with the working humans who go about business and take in lunch
Not hidden away but in plain sight for all to see
Yet the people move amongst them freely without a care or any shame
That this wonderful land of beauty and plenty
This modern country
Can only provide a sidewalk or a layby for so many to sleep
When they gather as a community in highway underpasses they eventually get moved on
I come from the continent of refugee crisis and we see pictures of dying children washed up on beaches
How many babies have washed up on your City shores?
Large movements of displaced people go from town to town and City to city
They move across the state lines from cold to warm
Gathering where the hustle can pay more
Or maybe just maybe somewhere just a little less scary than the last place
Like Catherine who I meet at the food truck by Voodoo doughnuts
Shared my tacos and heard about lost pregnancies and cockroaches
Longing for a women’s shelter
While I stand back in awe at the landscape
Try to take in the magnitude and magnificent of the redwoods towering over me
Take in the evening air walking the long beaches with the crashing waves at my side
Take pleasure in the company of strangers who for a moment are friends
Like Casey the recovered alcoholic or LJ the roving collector with a pawn store
This land mesmerises with its splendour and its people extend hands of friendship
No more than our hosts in Portland who introduce us to the articulate side of politics
And the diversity of Beaverton which contrasts against the daily spill of news of hatred and rage and killing and name calling in some vain claim to patriotism which divides white and yellow and black
And as I desperately suck up the air of the coast and the river and the mountains
Hanging onto the vastness and diversity of the land
It’s the sweeping homeless vistas that brand me
Its passing the beat up trucks and cars and shack dwellings tucked away in the trees lining the freeways
The lone walkers with their signs carrying one word “Help”
It’s a barefooted woman barely clad in clothes wandering up on Mission that burns my memory
The vomit covered old Mexican staggering through down town
It’s the cheerful demeanour and smile of Gipsy frazzled with dope and painting down on Clarion alley with bubble and squeak his white rats for company
That tells me even this landscape of human tragedy called homelessness is stuffed a plenty with its own richness and diversity
So America I get it
You have it all
Except maybe one thing
Sufficient shame that in a land of plenty
The lives of the young and old are washing up on your pavements like the tides of refugees from a long forgotten war
Overheard conversations can be a curious invite for your imagination - First Nation assimilation or annihilation?
We had been intending to go over to the First Nation Centre but they were closed for lunch. We manged to fit in a tour later and to find ourselves at the original settlers Church which had become as much a burial ground for First Nations as it was for locals. While waiting for the centre to open we stumbled upon Dees Diner. It was on an industrial site next to a motorbike parts store. Lorries and pickup trucks thundered by. It was very much the standard layout with cubicles but had no sitting at the bar that you can commonly see in diners. It was decorated plainly but had three large pictures on the wall depicting cowboy life. I guess there was an assortment of local people. An older man who I think was in his favourite corner, a younger couple, a man travelling alone and an older couple who looked like 1st Nation people. The men’s room had more cowboy paraphernalia, including a cowboy cut out as signage on the door, as if there were men and then there was cowboys.
The waitress was friendly and had that manner I have become accustomed to. Its cheery with a faint interest in your day but with sufficient efficiency to say I am busy, get on with your order. It lets you know where you stand.
A short while later I am enjoying my sandwich with endless coffee top ups. The door opens and a man leads an older man holding a walking frame through the door. He eyes a table close to the door and gently guides the older man down onto a seat while taking away his frame without jeopardising his sensitive balance. The waitress appears to offer to put the frame to one side and the older man shuffles his rear on the seat so as to be closer to the table. He is a tall man neatly dressed but wearing a hospital wrist band. He has close short cut hair that shows he is greyed with a tan skin although my view is much clearer of the younger man who accompanied him in. Sitting opposite it is easy to quickly ascertain this in his son. Diligent in his care. The tan skin is carried through to the son but he still has a full blackness to his hair. He shows a gentle regard and carries a fairly constant smile for his father. They are with touching distance it feels and we become both reluctant invitees to their story but also curious eavesdroppers.
‘’So we eventually got the new bunk beds set up for the boys. It gives them both more floor space…mostly for discarded clothes and sports gear…. did I say that Tom got a trial with the running club?’’
His father either nods or replies so quietly that it appears the son is having a monologue. Filling the empty space in more than a dutiful way. Somehow he knows he must try and keep the tenuous connection going. It’s as if he has the conversation tethered to a rope that pulls on a weight that is pulling his father further into a distance place that even his tenacity would fail to recover him from.
''The meds suiting you well?’’
''You know Bart’s pool solar panels eventually went up. How warm must that be. Lot of water in there to heat''
''Schools out so boys be on camp soon. Oh, Dan comes home this summer’’.
In a place like this the tan skin and bone structure of these men’s faces lead you back in time. While the walls might celebrate the cowboy in all his glory the clientele probably hold a rather less glorious story in their hearts.
The father sits upright and tall in his chair and I am guessing probably with some health plan in place. He is still and remains silent, looks out at his son without expression, so I am not sure where his emotions might be at this time. Maybe he is not so strong, maybe whatever ails him has taken his voice, so all he can do is be a silent partner to his sons endearing monologue. The son continues with his family updates.
''You know son. You should not try so hard. I am old and I am weary. My health not so good these days but my body has served me well. Better than many of my family and clan. And I know that you sometimes feel you turned your back on your people. But you are muck like me. You wanted a fair and just chance for your children. To embrace our way that would not been possible. We were misunderstood and this did not change for centuries or more. Now they want to celebrate our ways. Now they want our heritage but for what. To give them some right to this land. To what ends?''
He looks out at the distance. As if waiting for some sign on the horizon. Maybe the return of loved ones and lost ones.
‘’When your mother died. She was too young and I was not sure what purpose I had anymore. I promised I would keep going. That while she waits for me and she said she would wait an entirety as long as I stayed to make sure you were safe and that your brother would somehow come home. So here I am. I know you have done well and that you have the resources to keep safe. To bring up your children good and honest and with humility. But I fear your bother will never come home. He sees me as someone who failed our people in the same way my own brother felt betrayed by those of us who would not fight back. When cultures collide they talk about assimilation, adaption or annihilation. I felt as if I was adapting but my bother and your brother they see annihilation''.
The two of them eat their food but the father is slow and circumspect in his eating as if his interest is not in eating and that he is more drawn to his thoughts. He draws his glass of water slowly to his mouth. His son watches discretely. Taking a pause from eating the son moves the monologue along.
''So I am going have another go at smoking fish this summer. I have lots of half-filled jars. I thought I would do a bit of fishing with Dan when he is home. You know how we use to go. Down by the bridge……what year did we catch that salmon?......that…''.
''Its probably true. I did not have any fight in me. My name could have been Scared Crow not some name depicting bravery or courage. Maybe seeing my bother taken when he was eight and with all his might he could not escape the stark reality. That my parents had no power to stop it. The might of the Government, with the sanction of the people and an Act of law said we Indians had to be schooled in these special places with their reprogramming. To train us Natives to be human, like them. Knowing that I had two years and that would be me, bleed me of any rebellion. He fought them like a wild pony. Within two months he was back. He crept into my room like a cat in the black of the night. ''Billy, Billy, wake up. I need to collect some bits and then I am out of here. I am going be ok. I will come for you soon’’. Then he was gone. But they caught up with him. When I had to go to the Indian Reservation residential school I had already rehearsed my script of obedience. We all knew it was not a good place for us Indians and especially resistant ones. My brother was still there. Beaten but battling. At night he would be brought back to the dorm through the blackness. Held up by two orderlies and thrown on the bed. His body a silhouette. It lay there. Still. Frozen. I can still hear his pride shattering under the weight of muffled tears. His body bruised but in the morning he would hide every bruise as he would hide his pain. A distance grew between us. I adapted and he wreaked more and more anarchy. I was being assimilated and he was being annihilated. Every Sunday I would pray for him. Asking my new God to help guide him''.
When you hear a a son talk. In the way he did. Where a son plays out his role and shows no reluctance to engage in the seemingly banal. Not crushed by the father’s silence but respectful of him. You can't help but think there is always something that is unsaid. As with many a conversation.
''I guess you have not heard from Ted. I let him know you, you know, had been…back in hospital but it was fine. You had recovered well. That you were doing well. Of course I have not seen him myself in a year or so (more like two to three years). I think he is still up on the Reservation. Working welfare now. They have some difficult cases to support. I guess you know all this''.
The silences always get longer. Not matter how hard you try.
''Dad…I am…I mean…I never thanked you. At least I don’t think so''.
The father and the son finish up their food. The father pushes his plate to one side. The son will have to come around the table and help guide his father to his feet but there is one last silent pause. Both looking at each other.
''Your mother and I were proud of both you and Teddy. I should thank you Son. I abandoned my ancestors. I took a white woman who was kind and accepting and her family let this little Indian prosper. Gave me a $1000 dollars to set up a garage and spray shop. That woman supported me all the way. I turned my only gift, of drawing to an advantage early on at the residential school. I would sketch the Nuns and the visiting priest. Then later I would paint them in all their colourful glory. That kept me free of the beatings and also from the other privileges they would bestow on the little Indian boys and girls. My brother disappeared at the age of 14. I eventually dealt with it by believing he had finally got far enough away this time for them not to bother fetching him back. What did it matter if there was another homeless Indian teenager on the highways to hell? I prayed to my God but it never brought him back. He did not bother to come for me. I was a lost cause. I didn’t hide this from you or your brother. I told you all about my father and mother. About their parents and back and back through the generations. I still had the stories in me but I had long forgotten how to re-enact them. But these were not fairy tales with happy endings. From generation to generation the story becomes one of battling and bitterness, loss, betrayal and eventual hardship. I chose, or was chosen, to break this cycle. I wanted to prosper and be safe. I saw no riches in the old ways. You, you carried my way on Daniel. I thank you for that. It makes an old man believe that he did something good. I don’t feel betrayed by your brother. He looked past me and he can see the ancestors waiting. They still have the spirit inside them. They hope that maybe one day this land can be returned to them and their ways. Not for it to be raped and stripped bare, like so many of my friends in those schools they sent us to. That we will live again in co-existence with nature.’’
They both linger at the table. After the long silent pause the son smiles at his father.
'’So was that sandwich good for you. Good that you can eat a bit better now. How about when you get home. What’s that? Next week the Doctor said. I think I heard him right. Well what about Dan and I coming over. Let’s see if you're ready for watching some Sunday league baseball. Bart gets his pool sorted. We could take a ride by his. I know how you like put few lengths in still. Get the boys over. Its BBQ weather. Bart would like your company Dad. He always had a soft spot for you and you know…since…hmm…Doreen passed away. He does not have the company anymore.’’
From a few feet I can see this boys, sons tender love for his father and while I do not have a full view from here of his father. I think he is proud of his son.
''You know Dad I still miss Mom. Twenty-five years. She should not have been taken from you. Not when you had lost so so much already. I know you did you what you felt you should or only what you felt you could do. But to lose a Nation, to lose the lands that your family had so well cared for. That was awful and that woman was your refuge, not the reservation.’’
The man stands up. The waitress brings over the walker and the son helps the father steady on his feet. He holds the walker. They seem to chuckle to each other. I hear the fathers voice for the first time and see his magnificence. He must be 6’ 4’’ with piercing eyes and soft lips.
''Did you say you going to smoke some fish. How many times I heard that Dan" He carries on chuckling.
'’ Well maybe some old boy I know who has a secret recipe for smoking fish might want to lead a hand’’.
The son draws back the door and they make their way out. I see them step slowly up to a Silvarado pickup truck with the most colourful painting along its side of what seems like a 1000 Indians riding into a parched valley which turns green as they thunder on through, howling and singing.
The sons words are practically verbatim. I made notes so there is little embellishment. I did not hear him say the mother bit. His father said hardly anything. I was attracted by the endearing effort of the son. However my visit to the Indian Centre left me shocked at the cruelty still being dealt to these original settlers of the land and caretakers of it. When I went to School in 1966 Ted who we meet at the Centre went to an Indian Residential school in 1968 run the the Church on behalf of the Government. These schools operated up to the late 70's. They were not on the whole good places. The Church and grave yard was significant as we could not understand why it had no be burned down and why so many First Nation were buried there and had European names. So rather than blog about this I have tried to weave it into this short story. It seems to me this must have been and still is a story about assimilation and annihilation. Conrad Black wrote a piece in the national paper that the Indians needed to get over it and that the law suits that state their was a genocide going on are nonsense. I had never heard about the schools and I can't help think that it might not have been genocide of the people but it did have a stated aim to wipe out their culture and roots. To train them in proper ways.
We meet a modern day gold digger. Well it was nickel but gold was a by-product of the mining. He bemoaned the fact he had deal with so many bureaucrats to get mining licences. He also said as we talked about the immigration issues and you wander on to the subject of First Nations people.
"it is not as if they built any pyramids or anything".
In another town I meet another man. Very informed. I was watching a Sunday league baseball game and he invited me to have a beer. I enjoyed the jocular nature of his friends and for a moment touched on a cultural artefact of the settlers first hand. But I was intrigued about his job. He worked for the last 15 years with a Company that needed access to the land. His job was to negotiate with the First Nation peoples because in BC the state signed no treaties with them when the land was being taken by the settlers and Government of that time. So every-time it went to court they would win the right to the lands that they had originally roamed (it now made sense why the Centre we visited had made such a deal of tracing the original plots of land they lived and hunted on). So he said " they could end up with the whole of BC ". So his company was at the forefront of negotiation with them. He knew all about the Schools and the legacy of hardship that had left. The social problems that faced so many of them. He looked out at the people in attendance at the Sunday league. He said " of all the people here today maybe one or two might not this story ".
But hey, what does it really matter. If they built no pyramids they were not really a nation.
Rachel meet an Australian Farmer. He said " in two hundred years we European settlers have destroyed the land. The aboriginals had it for a thousand years and kept it in good shape".
I am not an anti-progressive and I have no real credentials as an environmentalist. We don't know for sure what would have happened if we Europeans had not sailed onto the high seas. If two or three hundred years had passed and that maybe the aboriginals from the far centres of the earth would have come sailing up to our coast lines with guns and germs that would have matched us for our guns and germs.
If you want an interesting read on global history try this book.
Meandering from motel to motel one can’t help but see them as marvellous monuments to the endeavour of human travel. They come in all shapes and sizes but the one in the popular imagination endures. It’s a one story with rooms fronting onto car bays with an open corridor running outside, in sunnier climes hosting chairs for occupants to relax into and take in the shared community living, partaking of conversations with passing strangers. They are long and narrow, some straight and others arranged in an L-shape or parallel to each other, so as to afford views of neighbours across the parking lot. There is usually a small hut like office with an iconic neon electric sign signalling a welcome ‘’open’’. There are the occasional two story motels with an upper open corridor that forms a veranda with views, down into the parking lot. Sometimes, you strike lucky and have one that’s positioned to give a finer view, as in Kamloops, where we enjoy the vista of the mountains. There are also those that come with a pool.
You could be forgiven for believing that motels are a business venture reserved for Indians (mainly it seems from the Punjab). On the whole we experience them as friendly and kind and always helpful.
With motels comes an assortment of life. One assumes they were designed and destined for the intrepid traveller. To accommodate the various needs of passing holidaymakers and business people on the lower end of a budget, or the construction workers taking a few days’ work away from home. Rooms equipped for a minimal stay but sufficient for small doses of self-catering. A fridge, maybe a microwave, the coffee maker and occasionally, always to our excitement, a mini kitchenette. However, on many of an occasion, a motel brings with it the long-stayer. In Kingston, the French man working in construction. In Westport there was the rusty old car permanently parked outside number 112, never moving. Looking discreetly in through the window you could see a makeshift office or maybe not so makeshift. The occupant mysteriously never seen, maybe he was on vacation somewhere. At St. Catherine’s the couple who had sold up in Nova Scotia and were now looking to move to the Niagara area for the climate. They had been in the motel for 3 months and took in take away deliveries, and smoked on the outside stairwell.
So we meander from motel to motel making moments with neighbours that we have snatched from across parking lots. As I do so I become curious about frozen moments I observe, people coming to a standstill. For them life goes on, yet in the context of a motel, life is surely moving on.
Sitting in the morning sun in Kamloops with the mountains surrounding me I ponder about who lives behind the shut curtains at the end of the lower corridor, room 101. Their room beside the pool. In the window a sign. ‘’Oxygen in use. Please no naked flames or smoking’’.
Life in a motel can be perfect or precarious.
It’s the people. Passing through people’s lives. Pausing for infinite possibilities of friendship. But sometimes we pass in the blink of an eye, their life is but a minute moment marked on my memory. Like Walt. He was sitting in Tim Hortons with a large coffee alone but scanning with his playful smile. He had some banter with a foursome of elderly couples who had maybe been out on a senior’s date. As they got up to go they passed some pleasantries in a cheery sort of way. He was leaning back across the sofa by the faux fireplace as if at home but not really because this was a fake home. Adorned with homely paraphernalia to make us feel welcome. For Walt it could have been home. He was portly with unkempt hair, unshaven and wearing a black suit with a white shirt, not dressed for the City but maybe dressed by its hand me downs. What did I know about Walt? Nothing. Only that he had that playful smile and I expect if I sat on that sofa he could, and would, tell me more. But I was gone, coffee collected to go I was back in the car heading away. The next morning, we took the transit bus downtown and as we had breakfast I looked out on a passing world. People going about their daily lives. Some rich with opportunities but others on the sidewalk asking for handouts. For them seeking small opportunities, maybe a dollar to get a coffee. This was the place where the extremes clashed. The veterans with their signs, the not so able with their sticks, and there, just in the corner of my eye, Walt wandering up through the people with that playful smile and in his suit. Not going to work not coming from an early morning business meeting, Walt wandering wistfully. From one end of the town to the next he travels. Looking for possibilities of friendship.
At Hilltop Motel people come and go. While some stay. The Frenchman across the way lives out his life from the motel. Each day he departs to work in construction and each evening he opens a beer, or more, and has his BBQ. He plays prog rock tunes and Jim, the motel worker, asks him to turn down the volume. But I kinda like the intrusion. Jim walks from room to room clearing away the sheets from another late night arriving early morning leaving guest. He sits on the porch swing and passes the day with breaks for conversation with passing neighbours cigarette in hand. The man with the little dog that snaps. And so Jim goes past our room again as we sit outside enjoying the evening warm air. Yesterday was his birthday he tells us. 56 and he has a dodgy hip. Now I can see a slight shuffle as he wanders off and now I can see Jim ‘ain’t jumpin no more’ but wandering from place to place on this small plot. He returns to tell us stories about the groundhog and the time that baby raccoons got stuck in the waste bin and he had to put a pole in for them to shimmy up and back out to freedom. All the while mum looking on. That sums up Jim, trustworthy and pleased to help out. Before we move on Jim pauses for a picture on his swing chair so we can capture something of the moment he slid through our lives.
It’s in Montreal that we inhabit, for the shortest of time, a house on Sherbrook down by La Fontaine Park a stone’s throw from the gay and Latin quarters. In the this multi-lingual and ethnic house French, Japanese, Indian, and Argentinian mingle, brushing shoulders. Alongside Canadians. And it’s here that stories of hope endure. The fighter who hopes to be a world champion contender, with his coach who professes he is a better coach than a fighter. The French republican who quizzes us about our royalty and maybe hopes one day we will have the glorious revolution he is so proud of. The Canadian, with the deep resonating vocal cords who tells us he is between places. A failed or misguided affair that should have taken him to Europe for the girl of his dreams but instead left him stranded in his own country. Sleeping on friends couches between hostel cheap rooms. Hoping that one day it will turn out ok but I am not so sure. While on the streets the busy French people of Montreal pass us by. Just another city with its landmarks, bars, galleries and International Jazz festival. For a treasured time, the tales we tell each other can be buoyant. It is as if there are so many people in the city you can whither, bob up and down on the wave of their stories, or be overwhelmed by the current, pulled away from your own landmarks or worst still, sunk to the bottom with the heavy weight of story sodden clothes. We looked in on Montreal and got a glimpse but we hunger for those small townships again. Local people. Local places because when it’s all so big you need a beacon.
Cast adrift in the wilderness we head for a place on the map in the middle of nowhere, nestled on a lake in a place where there seems to be a thousand lakes. Departing from the highway we cruise down roads that stretch out endlessly in front of us. Tyres rumbling on the tarmac in quiet isolation as other vehicles are so few. Stopping in a little hamlet called Athens, mums and dads ferrying small children back from soccer school and you catch bits of the conversations and it makes you realise we are but a shadow in their lives. At the grocery store we fumble around the shelves looking for a few provisions and the mum and her three children passes a comment. As we dash back and forth from the check out for forgotten items. She remarks that we shop like she does. She (the checkout girl) knows what I am like, always something else to get. Always forgetting what I came in for. So the lady with the three children with the stroller that could have been from ‘Dollarama’, who looks too thin, opens a window to her world. And we are gone. I am not sure how we appear to people but they have a propensity to open doors. But why. What kind of strangers are we, or what kind of place is this? Heading from Athens we finally land in Westport. This busy little place that stands at 700 locals but swells to 7000 in the summer. It is a picture postcard town. You can eat at Kelly’s dinner where the locals gather each morning. You can go to one of 4 or is it 5 churches and apparently one that meets in a house. You can take in coffee on main street alongside local characters like the ‘Senior of the Year’. Given the award for commitment to town volunteering. You can read the sign that says “we thank our volunteers”. And as it is Canada independence Day you can join the celebrations. And as we do, we can feel a small part of this community. Down at the beach on the lake we take in the Doherty Brothers music set. We might not be a real part of this little place with its perfect disposition. But we get to peep. We get to talk with Trevor who offers me a beer and Stan helping on the hot dog stall. We pass on the periphery of their vision. Sometimes a place feels so right and the people seem so right you can’t help think what might be wrong. Infinite preposterous possibilities lay in those passing smiles, or so you can imagine.
So as we travel people come and go. Some stay longer. Like Josh. The little Indian boy whose parents came here from Punjab some 40 years ago. He is a few months younger than Fred but has a frailty and smallness that makes him look younger. Skinny and wispy. He seems to always be asking for something to eat. He struggles to navigate the intricacies of the blow up boat in the water that we bought down at the beach. He spent all day with us yesterday and is with us now as we lounge in the sun by the lake. Since arriving Fred and Josh have been inseparable. At the motel they act out cops and robber play. They exchange stories. They draw together. Josh says he has no friends. School has broken up and Fred is an interlude in his apparent forced separation from other children as they go about their school vacation he wanders alone day to day the motel. Josh jostles for a part in our lives. Up at the crack of dawn he waits patiently for us to emerge from a perfect slumber. From kindness or gratitude that we welcome her child into our plans she prepares boiled eggs on the first morning. In the evening she prepares us pasta that we can eat on the motel porch. She gives Fred and Josh hot dogs and they escape to the shade by the swings. I guess Josh escapes for a moment. In this deserted summer for a few days he might be filled with companionship. We will be blessed by his shy smile, the slight stammer and his joyful disposition. We don’t pass by but hesitate, enough to prompt fantasies that he will grow up and maybe, just maybe, one day come and stay with us. So we can return something of the kindness of his family and that little bit of his world he opened up to us. Even though, when you hesitate and stay a while you generate a tear.
Canada has some 35 million people. It is a vast, massive seemingly endless country. We transverse long highways across big open spaces through small townships and hamlets. Scattered along the road side the cute clapperboard houses and big barn structures made from endless movie sets we have come to know with a strange familiarity. The names are strikingly familiar too. Newcastle, Whitby, Brighton, Grimsby, Athens, Perth, Sunderland. It goes on. Then the not so familiar. The names from the 1st nation inhabitants, as they refer to them. The indigenous population. The ones wiped out by our diseases and our guns as the early pioneers made this land ‘’our’’ land! I guess Canada has tried to come to terms with this and maybe as result reaches out now to others less fortunate. It airlifted some 25,000 Syrians out of war zones and poverty. It’s about the 2nd largest number taken in by a developed nation, after the USA. However, most refugees languish in under developed countries with far less capacity than the rich West to look after them. Poor countries are taking in the poor whilst most of the rich turn their backs. Canada is an exception. This act of kindness is reported by the press as supported by the general population. The polls here suggest a favourable outlook on immigration and Canada ranks 2nd in the world on the Social Progress Scale. I don’t know where the UK is but it is not near the top.
So what of these people. Socially progressive? Tolerant towards other less fortunate. I can see Walt wandering the streets of London. All rich nations alike have that cross to bear. As we gather ourselves from one stop to the other the people leave a mark. Those that we engage and hear snippets of their lives and outlook on the world, to those that leave just a trace. Those that are just a trace on my retina but leave endless possibilities for one’s imagination. To those who stop and stay a short while. Like little lovable Josh. Passing through is not always the easiest thing to do.
I retired about 5 years ago. I had been in the Mental health industry for my whole working life. I put my spare time into art, writing and photography with mixed success. I found that I had a great capacity to be idle and I would love to teach this to other people. The opportunity to spend this amount of time together as family in these modern times is rare. I will miss my older kids and Buddy and my close friends.