Monday, July 10, 2006

Growing Up on the Coast

When I lived in Australia for a year after university I learned to juggle on a boat - standing in the middle of the wheelhouse of a 48' yacht being driven by my boyfriend Martin Butler - I taught myself how to juggle 3 lemons during a trip from the Whitsunday Islands to the Great Barrier Reef off the Eastern Coast of the continent. Surprisingly really, all my boating experience has been on ruggedly gorgeous coasts within reach of where I was born and have mostly lived, in Vancouver. And this makes me giggle really, out of humour mostly that I can actually juggle because this is very untypical of me - but that I was to learn at all it would naturally have been on a boat.

My father was and is a yachtman, I guess you'd say. He's the kinda guy who mostly wears clothing that are various shades of blue you see if you sit watching the sunset during the summer in Howe Sound a little bit North West of Vancouver. It's true and odd actually that as the receding mountains of islands and coastline going back into the depths of far awayness, instead of layers of fading greens what you actually see is layers of fading blues. Tony Onley paintings are like this. A coastline full of gorgeously green fir trees that crash into the great Pacific Ocean that to the naked eye appear blue. Emily Carr painted them green, but then again, she was a woman so maybe this had something to do with it.

I came to spend the weekend at my father's house on the Sunshine Coast and for the entire 48 hours I was filled with a sense of - 'this is who I am and what I have always been - what I am made of and what I know how to do'. I know how to run down a steep ramp on a dock, I know how much sockeye salmon is worth and I know that when a stranger knocks on the hull of your boat, you invite them aboard for whatever kind of cold drink you have to offer.

Walking down the marina dock I was still 10 yards away when my old friend Bruce came out of the wheelhouse and started yelling at me. There is nothing anywhere in the world that feels as welcoming as an old friend who is happy to see you on a boat and puts down whatever is in their hands to make you feel at home. Climbing aboard the Kona Winds like I have done time and time again for the last 18 years felt like pulling on that old pair of jeans you still love, falling into the arms of someone who never fails to say 'give me a hug'. Something to count on.

This is why I love Africa so much. And why I love my life in Vancouver too because I am lucky to have such history and so many friends who still play the part of the characters in my memories - experiences that anchor us in what we are, what we have always been. In Africa it seems, and maybe I feel this more as an outsider, but it seems that almost always the act of welcoming takes precedence over the act of whatever it is we are busy doing. That to have someone make the effort to come to us and want to be with us becomes far more of a priority than whatever it is we are doing alone. To me that is graciousness, a form of extending ourselves into that realm of what is human and momentary. It is what I remember from growing up on the coast and what I search for most in life.

And I can't be unusual or unique in this - not many people grew up on boats like I did but most of us probably do remember the days when we didn't even question that a visit was taking up more precious time than the visit itself. This is why we work so hard, this is how our children learn new things, this must be something more fresh and fun than all the dates and times we scribble down in our daytimers. I was raised to believe that to extend the gift of yourself with courtesy and giving was a good thing and not an inconvenience - that to show up with a story and some humour or a welcoming gift was a treat and meant something, albeit brief. I think this is one of the things I feel the greatest sadness for, or loss of, before all the phones and voicemails and apologies - that to just be what you are when you can be was enough.

So I grew up on the Coast and when I look at a map of Howe Sound, Burrard Inlet and the Georgia Straight I know all the corners and crags of these places. And spending the weekend at my father's house makes me think of Kenya in that it too is a place that used to be another place before all the other people from all the other places came to visit. I don't want to turn back the clock, I'm not upset, but I do take certain liberties because I am from here, I am a local, I'm from the Coast.

And it reminds me so much of when I see the Kikuyu in Nairobi and the way they look at all the other Kenyans, the way they look at me, as if to say, "You are a visitor, take good care of this place, it used to be ours". And how I see them walk away in their groups indignant of the traffic or cars or new found establishment - it didn't used to be that way and somehow that still means something. I am like a Kikuyu in Vancouver, it is my place, my legacy, that somehow paints the frame around the picture that is me.

A week from today I get on a plane and fly again halfway across the world in hopes of feeling at home enough to build my business that is a gift for Kenya. Na Heshima. Respectfully. A flag that symbolizes freedom from the past, a country that longs to hold onto what is good and move beyond what was a shackle.

Israel has invaded Lebanon. I remember this from the seventies, only Arafat. My friend Georges who is working in Nairobi is in Beirut right now with his 3 young children, triplets he and his wife finally mangaged to conceive after years of believing it could be possible.

dbwa, Sue


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5:59 AM  

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