Homeless but harmless, and probably smarter than you are.

12 02 2010

For today’s post, I’d like to take a brief trip down memory lane…

Tuesday, May 29th 2007

Today I met a bum. He was a nice guy… and he made me laugh. He was one of those Montreal classic twenty-something homeless punks, with the battered leather jacket and the dog.
As I walked past he called out “Have my dog read your tarot cards, miss?”
I laughed, but I had somewhere to be like everyone else, so I kept on walking.

Later, I was at home and I realized that I’d be heading back up that street later. So before I went out, I cut a piece of the banana bread I’d made, buttered it, wrapped in some plastic wrap and stuck it in my bag. When I saw him again, I handed it to him and said I was sorry that I didn’t have any money…. I’m a student, I said.

He understood. He said he’d also been a student… graduated with a bachelor degree, majored in ethnobotany (useless nowadays unfortunately) and a minor in English Literature. Said he’d just finished paying off his debts, short of a hundred bucks, which isn’t bad.

We talked some more, and I relaxed a little – we talked about the times each of us had spent in South America… how different it was from here, and the good and bad times. I learned that he had grown up with his mum in Vancouver – learned to read tarot cards from her crazy gypsy family…. I asked about his dog – Koko, eleven months old, who he had stolen from a crackhead down in San Diego. He said he had to get out of there… you spend time just wasting your life, doing drugs… etc. So he had left.

He used intruiging phrases like “pretty ladies” for the women think they’re so damn gorgeous as they’re walking down the street – deeming themselves too good to talk to strangers. He called himself belligerent, which most average citizens can’t even spell, let alone use properly in a sentence…

He asked about me, politely of course – just as you would exchange information with any other stranger you might meet. He introduced himself : Andrew, he said, as he held out his hand for me to shake, fingers blackened with life. I gripped his hand, and found him gentle and kinder than I’d imagined him to be – with his chains and studded jacket, his dog wearing a fake muzzle and a spiked collar. I’m glad I met you, Andrew, I said. I’ll see you around.

– Sarah Topps

*Note: Photograph is not of Andrew. It was obtained from homelessworldcup.org

If you’re in Ottawa next Friday…

10 02 2010



IDRC Event – Colin Keating: “The UN Security Council Today: Implications for Canadian Membership.”

Canada is in a serious competition for election to the Security Council in October this year. But the Security Council – and the global environment – have changed dramatically in the decade since Canada was last elected. In a public lecture, Colin Keating, a former New Zealand Ambassador on the Security Council and now head of a think tank in New York which is the leading commentator on the Security Council, will discuss the challenges Canada faces and the risks and opportunities for elected members.

Please join us at the International Development Research Centre for “The UN Security Council Today: Implications for Canadian Membership.”

When: Friday, February 19, 2010, 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Where: IDRC, W. David Hopper Room, 150 Kent Street, 8th floor, Ottawa, ON

Colin Keating is a former New Zealand diplomat and Legal Adviser of the Foreign Ministry.  He served as New Zealand Ambassador to the UN from 1993–1996, and was Security Council president during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  Keating has been widely recognized for his leadership and advocacy at that time in trying to secure a timely and effective response.  He also led the Security Council Mission to Somalia and chaired the Security Council Committee on Sanctions against Iraq.

Ambassador Keating is now a Senior Research Fellow at Columbia University and Executive Director of Security Council Report.

The lecture is free but seating is limited, so please register: www.idrc.ca/events-keating.

French and English simultaneous interpretation will be available.

Information: 613-696-2101


Home is where the heart is…

9 02 2010

According to Planet of the Slums, by Mike Davis: Urban slum dwellers are currently the fastest growing segment of the global population. This is the statistic which inspired Jonas Bendiksen, Norwegian photojournalist, to travel around the world documenting, interestingly, the inside of slum-dwellers homes. The photo below is one of my personal favourites, with the caption below it taken from the Foreign Policy website.

[In Jakarta’s “kampongs,” the homes were smaller than in other slums Bendiksen visited. One couple, with their three teenage daughters, lives here. There is space to sit upright, but not to stand. Although the room is extraordinarily small, it’s also very tidy. “You see here the same elements as in your own house: framed family pictures, wallpaper improvised,” Bendiksen says. “No matter what economic condition people are living in, not only do we need to create shelter over our head, but to create a home.”]

I have lived in a number of interesting locations around the world – all of them luxurious compared with a single-room shelter where the ceiling is not high enough to stand up. It is certainly a sobering prospect, but it does however, allow me to raise the question which has so-often plagued me on my travels:

Where do you call home?

How does one define home? There are a number of expressions and clichés which have been used to describe this place of seemingly mythical status:

“A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams.”

“Home is where you hang your head”

“Home is an invention on which no one has yet improved.”

“Home is the girl’s prison and the woman’s workhouse”

“Home is where the heart is.”

“Home is not where you live but where they understand you.”  ~Christian Morgenstern

“Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.”  ~Charles Dickens

“Where thou art – that – is Home.”  ~Emily Dickinson

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”
~Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man

“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.”  ~John Ed Pearce

However, whenever I am asked for a specific place that I call “home”, I struggle internally, and generally end up changing my answer several times before eventually settling on something. Recently, while speaking with a friend of mine, Ms. Birgitte Witt,(whose blog can be found here) about her undergraduate thesis, this feeling was clarified for me.

Apparently I am a “third-culture kid“.

A third-culture kid, as defined by the TCKWorld website, is “[…] a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture.”

Ahah! I thought to myself. This explains a lot about why I feel/act/speak the way that I do. Here are some good examples which apply to me (and possibly to you) taken from the “You know you’re a TCK if...” page.

– Your life story uses the phrase “Then we moved to…” three (or four, or five…) times.
– You wince when people mispronounce foreign words.
– You don’t know whether to write the date as day/month/year, month/day/year, or some variation thereof.
– The best word for something is the word you learned first, regardless of the language.
– You think VISA is a document that’s stamped in your passport, not a plastic card you carry in your wallet.
– You own personal appliances with 3 types of plugs, know the difference between 110 and 220 volts, 50 and 60 cycle current, and realize that a trasnsformer isn’t always enough to make your appliances work.
– You fried a number of appliances during the learning process.
– You believe vehemently that football is played with a round, spotted ball.
– You consider a city 500 miles away “very close.”

And the list goes on. (It can be found here.) You too may be a TCK.

It certainly makes me feel as if, although I may not belong anywhere, I certainly belong somewhere. And that I can love all of my identities and “homes” and not be as strange as I once thought…

Post by Sarah Topps

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