Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Bag of Time

The same afternoon I arrived back from Calgary I got a phone call from my family informing me that my grandfather had died.
On the one hand, this came as a surprise, but on the other hand, he had been sick for a while. He had been very ill and underwent several surgeries pretty recently and there was a point where he was given a very slim chance of living. I had prayed honestly that God's will would be done and that he not remain in pain, for whatever fashion that meant. He had pulled through since that point, but faced several months in the hospital ahead of him. However, while he was 'hanging in' things were not getting significantly better and in the end, while we were sad for him to pass, ultimately we are glad that he is no longer in pain and that his eternal life has begun.

I had one full day in Edmonton- which I spent shopping for a black outfit. The only black dress I owned was a black-and-white pok-a-dot number that I had had since I was fifteen or so and had worn to my cousin's wedding (I haven't grown for a while, so lots of clothes still fit me). I remember dancing with my grandfather in that dress at the wedding, so I figured I should get something else.
It was actually very hard to find a fitting outfit. Little black dresses have gotten increasingly shorter and the ones that were border-line long enough were very summer-y and I couldn't find any sweaters to wear with them. I ended up just getting a black skirt and when I saw the time, I was appalled that it had taken me nearly three hours to just find a decent pair of black flats (that didn't have spikes on them or ridiculous bows) and a simple black skirt.

The next night I flew out to Philadelphia.
I hadn't expected to be in the US for at least another year, considering applying for permanent residency to Canada. However, it turned out to be beneficial timing- since being rejected on an extension of my work visa, I had no status in Canada. My 90-day grace period was dwindling and I needed to apply for a visitors visa- have the paperwork sent in within the next week to avoid being on the immigration 'watch list' or leave the country.

There were limited options for flights on such short notice, so I had 13 hours of travel time and arrived tired and with the dirty, grimy, greasy feeling of too many flights.

The funeral was beautiful, decorated with flowers and smiling pictures of my grandfather. No one exaggerated anything about my grandfather- no one had to, because he really was all the things everyone said about him: gentle, generous, kind, Godly, a servant and an optimist. He lived his life for God in every area; even in his own sickness, he reached out to every doctor and nurse whom he had contact with.
I'm glad that I was able to be there with family to say goodbye and remember his life.

Monday, I traveled back to Edmonton. I flew first to Orlando- which was in the wrong direction and a waste of my time. When we reached full altitude, a frightening announcement was made: "If there is a doctor on the plane, please proceed to row such and such." That woke me up from my nap in an instant.
A few rows ahead of me a woman was having a seizure. A doctor quickly came to her aid and a few nurses offered their assistance, as well. I considered offering to help, but when I saw the small crowd (and remember, we are in an airplane, so space is already limited) I decided better of it. Later, everyone who had assisted had to fill out waivers and other forms and I was glad to not have paperwork to do.
I relayed the story to Biruk later who guessed at the procedure to follow when someone is having a seizure and suggested putting a 'bite stick' in their mouth. Note: DO NOT put anything in the mouth of someone having a seizure.

Then I had two more, this time uneventful flights to Denver and finally, Edmonton.
I was nervous to go through immigration, realizing how little paperwork- such as financial forms and what not for crossing back into Canada. However, I had a pleasant woman who asked general questions and wished me the best of luck after printing off a one-year visitors visa. The conditions include that I cannot partake in any formal education in Canada, and I cannot have any paid employment in Canada.

So, for the next 9 months, or until I get permanent residency in Canada, or if I don't get permanent residency and have to leave Canada- I cannot work or go to school.
What if you had around a year with nothing in particular to do, what would you do?
I do have about a year to spend, lots of time to kill, and I love making lists:

Here is my 'what if' list:

- improve my Amheric. I want (*hint to whoever has me as their 'secret santa' in the family gift exchange) some materials to help me more formally learn Amheric- including a dictionary and to begin to be literate in the alphabet. I would just invest in Rossetta Stone, by they don't offer anything in Amheric. Some day, I want to be fluent and when better to start then with an open schedule?

- write a book. I'm loving the novel I've begun. Some days I don't even touch it or think about it and others, I'll type or hand-write until my wrist tires. However, I've decided to stop posting it on the blog, in partial irrational positivism: so that no one else can steal my work and publish it before me. I'm sure that I really should have no such fear, but that's okay. Instead, I plan on completing it, editing it and sending it off to a few close friends whose judgment I admire, including one who htter as worked with youth and is not afraid to critique me and another who herself has a published book and has counseled troubled youth. I'm not going to have Biruk read it- I know that he would smile and tell me it's wonderful no matter what was written. After it's written, I'm really not sure how to pursue publishing, but I'm not considering it too seriously until I actually have the work finished.

-volunteer. I've slowly, slowly begun volunteering with Young Life, which I should admit I'm not taking very seriously. I think the more time I spend with teens, the more I will be serious about it, but for now, it's just been meetings and I'm not feeling very motivated. I want to find a church that I love and help with the youth group. On the bus today I had an idea about a Bible study looking at marriage customs around the world and learning about us as the Bride of Christ through the various cultures. I also wanted to volunteer at the young offender's centre, however not having a car is making that a problem so that's on hold until I have wheels. In the mean time, I'm planning on volunteering at the women's prison. After my internship, I wanted to go back and volunteer, but with Biruk getting hurt, and then working two jobs and then getting everything for permanent residency I just couldn't find time. But now all I have is time.

- add variety to my exercise routine. I used to just go to the gym to lift weights and run. But now I'm wanting to spice it up- go to the climbing gym, ice skate (indoors only!), swim, take a spinning class and maybe join in a cardio-salsa session. I like running and being healthy, but the items I suggested sound like so much fun, why wouldn't I?

-get more crafty. I am my mother's daughter and Christmas is approaching, which is leading me to have 'craft urges' where I just want to paint or draw or sew. Now, I hate using sewing machines- it must be because I have bad memories of learning to sew with my mother and not understanding patterns and just cutting and sewing wherever she dictated. I think another one of my sisters suffers from the same problem. However, I do enjoy sewing by hand- I feel more creative and find it more relaxing.
In December, I should have a god-daughter entering the world, and I'm considering sewing her a small quilt. I have a small project in mind for my niece, Aiden.

It might not fill my free time for the next year, but at least it's a start. I'm sure washing dishes, figuring expenses and helping Biruk out in any other way to run the restaurant should help consume the rest of it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Two days in Calgary

I arrived in Calgary on Monday night, and was greeted by my old friend whom I used to live with in Calgary and her two, not-so-little children who are both gorgeous. They remembered me and greeted me with hugs and generously offered to share their Halloween candy with me.
I kept my friend up until too late at night, chatting and she missed her alarm in the morning. I slept in the little boy's room, with toys in the closet and Tupac posters adorning the walls. I asked him if he remembered when we shared a room a few years ago- me on the bottom of the bunk bed and he on the top and I would tell him Bible bedtime stories.
He remembered.
And he asked about Biruk, who is god-like in the little-boy's memory. He asked me so much about Biruk that the little girl got confused and began to call me Biruk, as well.

I woke up early in the morning- early enough to catch the swimming colors of the sunrise- a rare occurrence since opening the restaurant and our late-nights. I had a nice morning walk, looking for transit to take me downtown. I rode on the train with business women in suits and constructions works in muddy boots as we all squished to fit inside.
I was told the court began at 9 am, and scrambled through the security at 8:59 to discover that the witty young man had planned for his friends and relatives who are often notoriously late with their "African Time" and told them the court was a half-an-hour earlier than it really was.
Soon others arrived- most who I did not know and I was surrounded by a crowd of beautiful and tall Sudanese people, each of which greeted me with a hug and thanked me for coming. We chatted and laughed, fifteen or so of us consuming the entire hall-way and making plenty of noise.
We slowly filed in and took up the whole back area of the court-room. We listened to the first cases, one of which was long and boring, concerning a church that had held services in a public park and gave away food without proper permits. Apparently, you are not allowed to give away food in a public place.
There was a bit of a scuttle to begin, as at the last minute the probation officer had been switched. I was frustrated at this, since it was not the young man's fault that his probation officer was changed and since it was known when his court-date was, this should have been arranged long ago- but that's not the point.
The young man I came to Calgary to support for his court had already been convicted, the court was to determine how he would fulfill his sentence- in incarceration or in the community under probation's supervision and house-arrest. I have known this young man since I met him in Winnipeg, I also know his brother, from the same place.
His charges are serious and he should have to address them, to make amends with his family, his community and all others who he hurt and had a negative impact on as a result of his crimes. However, I believe that the best way for him to become a law-abiding citizen, and to move forward to a positive-life is within the community.
Now, while I usually jump towards options other than incarceration for many reasons, I had some substantial reasons for supporting this young man to be released to the community. For one, I believe that incarceration will only serve to further increase the chasm between him and success in the real world. I believe that success for this man is linked to support from his cultural community as well as his family. I think the hardest part for someone under his circumstances is not incarceration- he might be a model inmate, however the translation into the 'real world' would serve to be the greatest test. I think that serving his sentence in the community would better equip him to continue to live crime-free when he has completed his sentence.
Also, his tall, smiling older brother has faced a very similar experience- and it was not his time being incarcerated that proved to be a spring-board for change, it was being in his community and ultimately, moving away from such.
We had lunch ages ago, and always try to catch up when I am in the area, but it rarely happens. On this particular morning, we were able to sit beside one another and hold hands while I watched this older brother's body language shift from anger and nervousness. He is more than just an example for his younger brother to follow, and allowing that influence to be as immediate as possible will only serve to benefit the community and tax-payers.
I am an idealist, and in many senses, therefore I am naive. We originally expected to state for the judge why we felt this young man should be released to the community, or why we were supporting him. Instead, each was sworn in as a witness and cross-examined by the prosecution. I expected the demeanor of the prosecution, but my greatest frustration came from the judge, who I feel was not just. The prosecution continually referred to charges in another province, for which this young man has not yet been tried and therefore not yet been convicted. Such questioning should be ruled as irrelevant in this case and banned by the judge. However, she allowed it.
The prosecution asked me questions only relating to past charges that have not yet been addressed and asked not even one question pertaining to the current conviction or sentencing of the court hearing. I tried to say as clearly as I could with my nervousness of speaking into microphones that I believed that the best option for success and a positive life in the future mean completing his sentence in the community. I would have said more, had I not been so nervous, but perhaps that is for the better, as I may have gone off on a tangent that I am sure none would have appreciated.
When the prosecution questioned me concerning the young man's charges for which he has not yet been tried and are therefore, irrelevant the defense lawyer stepped in to request that further questioning be only in relation to the current conviction. The judge, I believe unfairly, over-ruled it.
The most astounding witness/testimony of support came from the older brother, who was open that he had faced challenges and believed that he could be a particular asset to his brother. However, the prosecution only wanted to discuss this young man's criminal history and details, and the older brother eloquently stated that he had come to support his brother and since the court was about the brother, the questions should focus on the offender and offense, not on the life details of the witness. The defense lawyer also attempted to step in and halt such inappropriate questioning, however the judge again would not heed the defense. It was frustrating, but I was very proud of how calm and cool the brother addressed the situation.
All in all, the judge was unjust and did not follow even very basic court and questioning protocols. And, at the end of the day, do to the switch of probation officers, the young man must wait another 6 weeks before he will know his sentence.
If I were him, I would be very, very frustrated. Either way, it is unfair to him- if he is going to be incarcerated, he at least could be transferred to a real prison where he has the chance to enroll in courses, take treatment programs and begin to focus on the future. If he completes his sentence in the community, those 6 weeks could mean time to enroll in January classes or look for a job. Instead, he must wait out that time in a remand center (which is also unfair to tax-payers because of the cost).

I spent the rest of the day with the older brother, much of which meant sitting on the chilly front steps of his friend's house and talking about his girlfriend. And, at the end he insisted that he take me back to my friend's house, and then I proceeded to get us lost (I've gotten too used to the ease of directions in Edmonton). Strangely enough, our driver used to date my friend's little sister, so we had a good laugh when he realized the house he was at.
I'm not sure how to word this in a politically correct way; but I am amazed at how the world shrinks when in the presence of immigrants. They find connections so quickly- Biruk is forever greeting someone who he knew long ago in Nairobi, Kenya, or hugging a former classmate from Debre Tabor, Ethiopia.
Standing together in front of the close court-room doors, our group was addressed by a passing Sudanese man who just so happened to know several people in the circle.
It doesn't seem to matter the country or origin or the distance between home countries, there seems to be some magnetic pull that links people of the same nationality so that they find one another if they are in the same city.
The next day I spent doing errands for Biruk- collecting lost items and hauling 27 kilos (?? it might have been less- but it was too heavy for me to carry) of meet-meeta (Ethiopian spice) back to Edmonton for him.
I arrived at the bus station exactly 5 minutes before the bus left and nicely asked the receptionist to rush to print me a ticket.
I settled in my seat with my lunch of complimentary crackers just as the bus took off for Edmonton.