Tuesday, November 15, 2011

From Bombay, with love ...

 From Bombay, with love: My time with the Dirty Wall Project in Saki Naka slum community, Mumbai

We step out of the autorickshaw onto the side of a dust, traffic and waste-filled road. The people, dogs and cars move around each other like notes in a symphony that miraculously do not collide – at least not as often as you’d think. The brown veil of pollution hangs low, intensifying every shallow breath, sweet and sour scent to this newcomer’s senses. We follow a clearing through a garbage dump of sorts and come upon the entrance to the Saki Naka slum community in the Andheri East area of Mumbai.... Read the full post on the Dirty Wall Project website: http://dirtywallproject.com/blog/?p=2721&pid=image-1392

Saturday, October 15, 2011


I’m laying on a bed watching my newborn nephew squirm and stare like a little shrimp with wide inky eyes, not yet quite part of this world, a tiny fish plucked from the water. We’re in the home I grew up in and helped build, in the room where my father spent his last days just over eight years ago. Today would have been his 60th birthday, so we’re baking a cake – angel food, obviously.
Here I am again, listening intently for another’s breath and heartbeat. This one is so small yet strong. He is his grandfather’s namesake, David, born on his father’s 30th birthday – a breath of life and joy in a family that’s seen too much loss and sorrow in the past 10 years.
I am reminded, bitterly, of the days and weeks spent in this room, slipping in and out of sleep as I watched my father die from cancer. I remember the endless episodes of Law and Order, reading him the Lee Valley tools catalogue, massaging his swollen feet and the ever-present soundtrack of CBC radio.
I remember sitting vigil for days when he first slipped out of consciousness. I dozed off and awoke to find him gone – literally, not there. The bed was empty. Confusion and panic ensued. His slippers were also gone. Could someone barely 100-lbs, on intravenous morphine, who hadn’t spoken or woke for three days just get up and take off? Apparently, yes.
Dad had an abrupt second wind and seeing me asleep took advantage of his chance to escape. It was Saturday, you see, perhaps his last. This meant it might be his last chance ever to hit a garage sale. We found him trucking down our street, coming from the multi-family, cul-de-sac yard sale a block away, with a ‘90s Casio keyboard and various trinkets in tow. I have no idea where he got cash. He was eccentric, defiant and amusing to the end.
I am reminded of the labour of death. The waiting, the pain, the love, the unabashed humour about bodily functions and frailties. The fear and taking over of inevitable physical change. The departure. The arrival. Is the labour of death not so different from the labour of birth?
Change of any kind is laborious, especially when the focus is on the endings – of a life, a love, a career, a path.
Cultural mythologist Joseph Campbell said. “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
He also said, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”
This is why change is so hard – it breaks us. When, and if, we’re able to put ourselves together do we become “stronger in our broken places,” as Hemingway suggests?
Leonard Cohen sings: “There is a crack in everything/That’s where the light gets in.”
And if it doesn’t get in do we remain broken, static in our shadowy traumas, surges of fear lashing in our bellies like live wires?
This is the journey, the individual adventure.
The decision to take a one-year sabbatical from my job as a newspaper reporter stemmed equally from opportunity and physical exhaustion. I’ve sometimes compared Island life to Calypso’s Isle in Ulysses, a sensual womb of comforts and support at its best and a stagnating time warp at its worst. As hard as it is to leave, even for a short while, it can only be best.
This year is as much for professional development as it is personal. Courses, conferences and fellowships are being considered. But a more experiential form of learning calls first. This stems from an interest in how people receive and share information that matters most and what new forms of storytelling emerge.
After only a week back in my hometown Sechelt, I’m reminded of the intriguing travel of news in small communities. Stories break with “Did you hear?” at the mall, the hardware store, in grocery parking lots. A few graphs in the local rag or even the big-city dailies can’t compare to the build and unraveling of personal connections, detail and emotional responses to tragedies or hot issues.
It’s good to immerse yourself in new communities every now and then – especially for a journalist. We spend our working lives gathering intimate details about others in short intense exchanges to invite interest, dialogue and change – yet we strive to maintain an emotional distance to be objective, to get the job done.
When the distancing seeps into your personal life is when it’s time to change, to challenge perspective.
Tomorrow, I’ll leave for Amsterdam to meet a dear friend from journalism school. One week later, I’ll leave for India – I’m not sure for how long or what exactly will unfold. I am fortunate to arrive in Mumbai and spend time with a Victoria friend, Kane Ryan, his parents, and the Dirty Wall Project – a charity supporting one of the many slum communities with the mantra “See a need and fill it.” For the past year I’ve followed Kane’s blog, http://dirtywallproject.com/blog/, a frank, earnest and visually stunning portrayal of his work, colleagues and community.
I plan to connect with a certain newspaper night security guard, who works two jobs to support his family in Victoria and a rural school in Northern India, as well as a high school friend of my father’s who left Canada to become a Hari Krishna in the ‘70s and work with inner city kids in Bangalore.
One of the most-difficult items to leave will be my laptop, which I’m trading for a moleskine notebook – where poems and drawings will replace tweets and third-person status updates…. Until an internet cafĂ© calls – which I’m sure it will often.



Thursday, February 10, 2011


This was a beautiful event to witness: A surprise wedding proposal planned by a stealth chorister and hundreds of fellow singers. Beautiful.

The Gettin’ Higher Choir did more than sing about love and happiness at an afternoon concert Sunday. The more-than-200-member group helped a fellow chorister in an elaborate surprise proposal to his girlfriend, also in the choir.
Choral director Shivon Robinsong invited Niilo Van Steinburg and Sara McLaughlin to introduce themselves to the audience before the choir was set to sing “Love and Happiness,” a song by Kimmie Rhodes and Emmylou Harris.
Robinsong told the crowd they like to invite choir members to tell their stories every now and then. Unbeknownst to McLaughlin, the invitation was a ploy to get the couple stage front — a ploy planned by her boyfriend, Robinson, co-director Denis Donnelly and hundreds of singers.
McLaughlin told the audience: “Just after we started dating, Niilo thought we could join the Gettin’ Higher Choir as something we could do together as a couple.”
Van Steinburg said he enjoyed the choir so much he wanted to try conducting it — right then. Robinsong obliged and Van Steinburg took the podium, lifting his hands to a wall of voices singing the name “Sara.”
He asked to Donnelly to help him the second time and as they sang his girlfriend’s name, he got down on one knee and offered her a crystal rose singing, “Will you marry ...” with the choir. The “me” was sung by Van Steinburg alone.
The audience, which included many of the couple’s family members who had travelled for the surprise, went wild. McLaughlin said yes and the couple sang “Love and Happiness” side-by-side with the choir and soloist Kim E. Willoughby, gazing into each other’s eyes.
Afterward, McLaughlin said she almost didn’t make the performance because of a cold. She had no idea what her partner was planning as he cleverly used the rose to propose instead of her grandmother’s heirloom ring and Yukon gold that they’d discussed in the past.
Robinsong said this is the first surprise proposal the choir has performed, but it is not the first romance to blossom in the group. Several couples have met in the Gettin’ Higher Choir and some have married.
“Too many to even count,” Robinsong said. “Something about singing together really opens up the heart. Plus, people look very beautiful when they sing.”
The Gettin’ Higher Choir was founded in 1996 by Robinsong. It is an non-auditioned community choir with a mission to raise funds for community projects in Africa and B.C.
Sunday’s concert was the second in a series to raise money for the Power of Hope, a non-profit arts program for youth. Texas singer Rhodes was scheduled to perform at the concerts but cancelled two weeks ago because of her husband’s illness.
Luckily, Willoughby and Cortes Island singer/singwriter Rick Bockner stepped in to save the day.
For more information on the Gettin’ Higher Choir, visit: gettinhigherchoir.ca

Monday, January 10, 2011

Newspapers and video...

In reporting some stories, words are not enough.  Or, they can only convey part of the story. This is what attracted me, a newspaper reporter, to using video as a medium online. It’s disheartening sometimes to hear veteran journalists in my field dismiss the web without considering its use in sharing comprehensive, heartening stories in the public interest. I wish creativity would replace cynicism, because we could all use their expertise and ideas.
This video was created to accompany a print feature about budget cuts to weight loss surgeries in B.C. I worked with fellow reporter, Katherine Dedyna, as she gathered facts and focus. Her story focused on the larger issue – wait times – and went into incredible detail. This is the benefit of print reporting.
I chose to focus my video on two people affected by obesity and show their lives and emotions. This is the benefit of video. It is one thing to describe the difficulties a 500-plus lb 26-year-old man faces. It is another to see him walk, breathe and hear the pain in his voice. Just as it is one thing to describe a weight-loss surgery success story, it is another to see a young mother who once weighed 328 lbs touch her toes and jump on a trampoline.
The video was shot on a Kodak Zi8 and edited in iMovie. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Gnocchi with Nonna

Watch on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2NOGwGuMEM

My nonna Chiarinna Bevacqua taught me to make gnocchi – sort of – on a recent trip to Prince George, B.C. Nonna is from the Calabrian village Mangone in Italy. She came to Canada in the 60s with her five children to be with my nonno, Felice Bevacqua. He had left Italy to work on the railroad in Prince Rupert several years earlier and struggled to save the money to bring his family over. The generous Italian family he was boarding with put away a portion of his rent for years until there was enough money for the whole family to make the trip.