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An Open Letter to Calin Rovinescu, CEO of Air Canada

Greetings. My trip — – June 26 to July 14, 2017 — from Medellin where I live to visit my 83-year old mother in Canada was one from hell.

First of all, there was a delay from Bogota to Toronto of six hours – which turned into nine. I asked for a complimentary pass to the lounge. Since I’m a writer, I need space to work and an area where I can concentrate.

The woman I was talking with couldn’t make a call, so she asked her supervisor who couldn’t do it either. The Air Canada staff in Colombia seem to have the collective decision-making power of an ameba.

Giving me a pass to the lounge would have cost Air Canada a bit of food and drink, but I would have been a happy flyer. Instead I was given a voucher for 25,000 – about $12 CAD – for lunch. There is no way you are going to get fat on that at airport restaurants.

Vouchers for dinner were not available. Instead they showed up with junk food that I would never normally eat. It tasted about the same going down as it did coming up. 

On the return flight, I ended up with a window seat. I always want aisle seats and had done so when I booked the ticket on January 24th, 2017. The ticket was changed three times. More annoyance.

It was a full flight so I ended up stuck with the window. Consequently, I went 33 hours with no sleep. It took me about three days to recover when I got back to Medellin.

I contacted customer service a number of times. Eventually, they sent me a code to claim a discount. The offer of a 15 percent discount on my next flight simply doesn’t cover the problems I encountered with Air Canada.

I originally wrote this letter to Michael Stein from customer service, but it was merely a no-reply email address with the discount code.

When I called again and all the agent could advise was that I contact customer services, I decided that it was time to by-pass them and go directly to the top. Since customer service couldn’t give me anything more than a no-response option, I decided to turn this into an open letter.

I think a reasonable reimbursement would be a return ticket from Medellin to Saskatoon, a complimentary upgrade to business class or 25 lounge vouchers.

Cut and copied below is an article I wrote for The Travel Itch about my experience with Air Canada in 2012.

Thank-you for your attention to this matter and I look forward to hearing from you.

Regards,

Jody Hanson

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Trip Advisor–

Calling all Top Contributors

As one of our most valuable reviewers, you’re full of great advice. Can you share your thoughts on a recent flight?

 

Review a flight

 

Pissed Consumer-

https://air-canada.pissedconsumer.com/an-open-letter-to-calin-rovinescu-ceo-of-air-canada-201708301094388.html?hash=55490d699356afe710c717a3359e2faa&nocache=1

Stuck with Air Canada:
62 Hours from BOG to YXE

By Jody Hanson

If you are on the Air Canada flight to Toronto, come with me. Tim Bridges, a passenger, took it upon himself to go through the airport and muster the passengers of the cancelled flight 963 from Bogota to Toronto.

The benign chaos reminded me of living in Nigeria. The first indication of a flight being delayed or cancelled was the airline staff quietly going into hiding, as nobody wanted to cop the flack. But this was Colombia and if it hadn’t been for Tim taking charge, people may well have been stuck in the airport overnight, afraid to leave in case the flight was finally called. The frustration was that there were no Air Canada representatives to be found, no announcements and no attempt to locate the stranded.

To backtrack, when I left the hotel at 10:30 a.m. there was no message from Orbitz – an online booking site that sends messages – of a delay. When I checked in at the airport half an hour later, however, an agent at Air Canada announced that the 14:00 flight had been postponed until 17:30 and handed me a lunch voucher. I wished she hadn’t.

The Presto restaurant is best described as disgusting, and about the only thing on offer is hamburgers. I was hungry, so I ate one. Bad decision. Almost as soon as the somewhat-off grease hit my stomach it made an upward rebound. And when food tastes the same coming up as it does going down you know it is truly revolting. It wasn’t that there was a shortage of restaurants at the airport; the issue was that Air Canada opted for the most el cheapo one available.

When I got to the Star Alliance lounge and checked my email I found six messages from Orbitz, each stating that the flight had been further postponed. The final projection was for 22:13, a mere eight hour and 13 minute delay. Still contact of any kind from representatives of Air Canada.

I used Skype and talked with Linda at the Air Canada help desk in Toronto. She informed me that the airline was awaiting inbound equipment. Neither of us could figure out what that meant. I inquired about the flight at the lounge desk and the staff replied there was no word from Air Canada and they weren’t answering their phone. Eventually I went to the desk with the “flight cancelled” message on the laptop screen. Shortly after, Oscar – finally an Air Canada representative who was helpful – appeared and we were taken to the Holiday Inn at about 20:00, six hours after the flight should have left.

Nothing makes people bond faster than a common unpleasant experience. Rumours about what had happened abounded. The leading contender was that the flight had left for Bogota, but a passenger had gone ballistic so the plane had returned to Toronto. The runner-up was that it was mechanical problems, and trailing in third place was that there had been a storm. The mute representatives from Air Canada would not offer an explanation. Did they know or does Air Canada management regard reasons for delays as corporate secrets?

Landed with a couple of hundred – or so it seemed – unexpected guests, the staff at the Holiday Inn were overwhelmed and kicked into a go-slow mode. After procuring a room and having a fast shower to wash away the grime of the airport, there was only one sane and reasonable thing to do: Go to the bar and drink Scotch.

Our flight was rescheduled for the following afternoon at 14:00, 24-hours after we were to have departed. The line-up was ridiculous and the check-in speed next door to dead stop. The bumped passengers and the ones booked on the flight for the day milled around. Boarding cards were replaced and we eventually ended up in the waiting area, hoping the plane would actually leave.

And we all had a story. Danielle Gutstein reported that the night before she had been told to wait here  for food vouchers for dinner. Then the representative from Air Canada disappeared and didn’t return for three hours. And when she was spotted – given away by her uniform – she made a studious attempt to avoid the passengers clamoring for her attention. Another passenger and her fiancé had come in from Lima to catch a connecting flight and never wanted to stop in Colombia, as they had heard it was too dangerous. They ended up with an extra passport stamp they hadn’t counted on.

The scheduled-for 14:00 plane didn’t leave Bogota until 15:10. Even though my math skills are questionable, it didn’t take rocket science to figure out that with an hour and a half to make my connection to Saskatoon, it wasn’t going to happen. Consequently, I had to spend a night in Toronto. And totally reprehensible was the Air Canada selected hotel didn’t even have a bar for some soothing Scotch.

The Air Canada representative in Toronto booked me on the 16:10 flight to Saskatoon. The next morning I checked online and discovered I could have been on the 11:00 or the 13:00. However, by the time I got through to a representative – it took 27 minutes – it was dodgy to make the 11:00. And I would be wait-listed on the 13:00 with no guarantee I wouldn’t get to spend an additional three fun-filled hours at the Lester B. International. Pass and opt for a late check-out.

When I finally emerged from the plane in Saskatoon I’d chalked up 62 hours from the time I’d arrived at the airport in Bogota. It was difficult, but I managed to restrain myself and not kiss the ground like John Paul II.

About the only good thing I have to say about the trip is that at least my bags arrived, although both of them were damaged. As an aside, I’ve quit counting the number of times Air Canada has lost my luggage.

Given my consistently annoying experiences with the airline, the obvious solution is to avoid Air Canada. Alas, when you live overseas, book your tickets online and have to get to central Canada to visit your ageing parents it isn’t much of a travel option as the train takes too long.

So let’s just hope that passengers like Tim Bridges continue to do Air Canada’s job.

Jody Hanson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel junkie currently living in Buenos Aires. She has visited 98 countries, lived in eight and holds passports for three.

 

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Blog

How to Have a “Vacation” in Saskatchewan

Monday 26 June  – left for the Medellin airport at 07:00

Tuesday 27 Junearrived in Saskatoon 30 hours later. This included a fun-filled nine-hour layover in Bogota.

Mom had the annual ritual food of vegetable soup and buns waiting for me.

My mother playing computer solitaire.

I really didn’t have to eat it consecutively  for lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch, but it was so good that I couldn’t resist.

My sister and her two white rats were at Mom’s. I took the pooches for a walk and learned how to pick up two pooh piles with one plastic bag, so I may add “dog walker” to my list of skills.

Wednesday 28 June – had lunch with John from the class of 71.  Met Bonnie and Brandon Bertram for dinner.

Friends and family wandered in and out, rather like a come and go tea.

All around the table
A typical Hanson pose.
Curtis and Hank hiding

Thursday 29 June – taught a couple of business English lesson to students in China on Skype in the morning.

At 15:00 I went to the local cafe; I am now qualified to report that the news on coffee row hasn’t changed much since August 2016.

Bill — the rebel who planted potatoes in April

Then I went over to check out 90-year-old Bill’s Garden Bar and enjoy a beer.

This year he planted potatoes in April – gasp, shock, horror – and it set up the local gardeners for a verbal twittering. But the plants came up and are doing fine.

 

 

Friday 30 June – The Canada 150 celebrations began with registration. Well, the European and various other immigrants may have been in the country since confederation in 1867, but the First Nations People arrived about 15,000 years earlier. I think it is far more interesting, so why don’t we celebrate that too?

Registration for Canada 150

Sharon and I watched the street dance briefly, talked with Earl and decided to go for a glass of wine rather than shiver in the cold beer garden

Kids at the street dance.
Sharon and Earl

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday 1 July – checked out the parade. There I encountered various people from way back when.

Shawna’s van “Doris” is decorated for the parade.
Even the seniors get in on the parade.

 

Sharon at the restaurant.

Sharon and I had dinner at John’s Plate, which we considered a better option that the community supper of “beef on a bun.”

Sunday 2 July – heard “Jody, get up here” and took my mother – who doesn’t do doctors – to emergency. Reflux — http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/basics/definition/con-20025201 — is exceedingly painful, but not fatal, Insha’Allah.

I was told to go to the Hanson tribal gathering at my brother and sister-in-law’s in Wishart – two hours away – but after watching the sunrise I headed for bed.

My brother, Hank, brought Mom home at 18:00, so I was glad I had stayed put.

Monday 3 July – drove to Neudorf to collect Jeannie – whom I have known since I was four.

Jeannie

She went blind a few months after retiring from teaching. Our friend Linda, was in so much chronic pain that she couldn’t join us for our annual lunch.

Then we set out for Dorthey’s “Shut Up and Eat Café.” After gobbling wonderful borsht, perogies and cabbage rolls, I belched softly after the massive second serving.

Dorothy — the chef at the Shut Up and Eat Cafe — and Bob

Dorothy really can’t understand why I want the same menu every year. Stop! Don’t even suggest that I could learn how to cook the dishes myself.

Later Pat arrived in Neudort – complete with a great bottle of Scotch.

Pat

She, Jeannie and I sat out on the patio and talked until stupid o’clock.

Tuesday 4 July – handed the phone at 07:00 by Jeannie who said “It’s your mother.” Major heart palpations.

“Don’t go to Wishart as Doug and Gloria have decided they are going to go on the tour with Shelley and me.” My younger sister had decided to take Mom on a trip down memory lane, which included Yarbo – population 27 when I was born – and where the family homestead is located, Esterhazy, Foam Lake and various other places of interest only to those who know where they are.

Wednesday 5 July – watched my mother in her garden.

Mom in her raspberry patch.

Hint – look for the white hat in the raspberry patch.

My friends in Medellin don’t believe that we are all headed for Mom’s basement in the case of a nuclear fall out. Really, does one 83-year old woman need two huge freezers and enough canned food to fill a room? She shares, of course.

Wall one with freezer and preserves

 

 

Wall two

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wall three with freezer two

 

Wall four with more preserves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday 6 July – headed for Saskatoon. Carol is my personal shopping advisor as she knows where everything is that I need to pick up in Canada.

Consumer mission accomplished, we went to Cecile’s for our annual Gazebo Gathering. Nobody can remember exactly when it all started, but I was living in New Zealand so that means it is more than 20 years ago. We all have a connection with the North somehow or another.

The Gazebo Gatherers

It started out with meeting at a restaurant, evolved to “Borsht and Perogies” at Carol’s and then became the Gazebo Gathering when she moved to Big River.  We all show up with wine, food to share, and stories to tell. Such fun.

Friday 7 July – returned to Watrous for my annual sleep-over at my friend Iris’s house. She is a great cook and has the most comfortable bed ever in her spare room.

Saturday 8 July – organized the Wagner Woman Wrap-up – a gathering of grandmothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, cousins – ages ago when I lived in Australia.

We used to meet for dinner, but it evolved into a Saturday lunch being a better arrangement as some of us like to be home by dark. My cousin, Linda, has now taken it over so all I have to do is get lost and show up half an hour late.

The Wagner women having lunch
Grandmothers, aunts, sisters, nieces, cousins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday 9 July – hopped on my mother’s bike and headed for the cemetery to have a visit with my father. The day was specifically picked as it would have been my parents’ 66th anniversary. It was also a good time to think about my brothers, Murray and Chris.

My other Canadian project was to re-read Anne of Green Gables. and I finished it that night. As a teenager, I read it at least 23 times and wept miserably every time Matthew died. Perhaps I am getting older, as I just got a bit sniffy this time.

Monday 10 July – applied for my Old Age Security. Yes, that time has arrived and I just hope it slides into my account come February 2018.

My sister-in-law, Del, rocked up and we headed for the liquor store. I told her I had bought a bottle of Saskatchewan wine—cough, cough — as a gift for the artist who made the hand-painted shot glasses that were my present of 2017. She decided to buy a bottle; it may well evaporate before I get there in 2018. Caution: try Wild Willow Cherry Wine at your own risk.

Tuesday 11 July – lunch with Joan is always fun. Later I also stopped in to see 88-year old friend, Clara, who had a stroke a decade or so ago. She is one of the gentlest people on the face of the earth. Also got to baby-mind while my niece, Shawna, cut hair.

Shawna Sissorhands
J babysits while Shawna cuts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday 12 July – making suggestions is always a touchy topic with the Hansons. So when I asked my brother, Doug, if he and Hank were going to put the sod back for the slab-stone back-door patio they were building for my mother, they told me to piss off. Fortunately, I have a massive ego.

Doug working on the patio

 

Hank telling me to piss off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A day of last minute tasks: packed and hoped I could get all the jars of preserves Yoly requested past the scale, washed my Aunt Lena’s car that she generously allowed me to use, double checked the ticket and did other fun things.

Thursday 13 July – caught up with my friend, Charlene, whom I’ve known since I was 14. We sat out on her deck and chattered away. I glanced at my watch and it was 12:03. Wrong. Dead battery it was really 13:30.

So I tossed my already-packed suitcases into the car and headed to return the car to my aunt. Then I took a taxi to the airport, got a boarding pass and cleared security.

The flight to Medellin also had delays and took 33 hours.

This is what Air Canada feeds you for a nine hour delay.

I wasn’t able to get any sleep as Air Canada had booked me into a window seat from Toronto to Bogota. I had bought the ticket in Lima on 24 January – my birthday – as without an onward ticket Avianca Airlines wouldn’t let me board.

I had booked an aisle seat, but the ticket was changed three times and the flight was totally packed without an aisle seat available.

Friday 14 July – arrived in Medellin exhausted. After I slept for two or three days, I recovered and am now back to being as normal as I ever am.

Follow up

Yoly enjoying some of my mother’s Watrous jam in Medellin.

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Guest Posts

9 Tips for Packing on a Business Trip – Guest Post by Yousuf A. Raza

 

 

Anyone who travels for work knows that every second of the trip is essential and everything that is possible to do to make the stay away from home is a great help. Starting with the suitcase!who travels to work knows that every second of the trip is essential and Anyone everything that is possible to do to make the stay away from home is a great help. Starting with the suitcase! 

Some entrepreneurs have shared with Business Insider their tips on how to pack a suitcase with everything you need and make life quicker during a business class flight with cheap tickets. Check out the following tips.

1.Choose a few colors

Pack your suitcase with just a palette of colors, and preferably some dark tone. There are two less things to worry about: you do not need to think about combinations and dark colors hide stains or small dirt in case any unforeseen occur.

  1. Have a kit of essentials

A last-minute meeting or an off-budget business dinner is common on business trips. So it is important to have a kit of essential and varied items always at hand. So keep your personal belongings, cables and chargers necessary for your electronic devices and documents always around if you need them for some reason.

  1. Check the weight of your suitcase at home

Always check the baggage weight limit of the airline you are going to use cheap flights and check the weight of your bag before arriving at the airport.

  1. Two suits are enough

For men, two suits should be more than enough for the trip. With shirt changes, you have no problem keeping the same suits.

For women the ideal are two blazers and for each pair of pants and a skirt, one can be used already on the way, to avoid extra luggage.

  1. Learn to bend without kneading

One tip to minimize the creases of a suit is to fold it from the inside out and wrap it around soft items, not to press the fabric and not knead much while traveling. In addition, you can carry an extra belt to put on the collar of the shirt to prevent it from forming creases and marks.

Instead of folding your clothes, one option is to roll up shirts and pants to save space and avoid creases in clothing.

Divide the luggage by weights inside the bag 

Place the heavier items near the wheels of the bag and the lighter stack of clothes on top to keep the bag balanced. Thus, the heavier items do not crush the lighter ones and the clothes knead less.

  1. Shoes and extra spaces

The shoes can be used as a space to put the socks or some object of the same size, to preserve the format of the shoe and to save space

  1. Portable Battery

In a business trip it is important to ensure that the battery of your appliances lasts until the arrival at the destination point. Charge everything before you board or carry portable chargers.

  1. Copies

As a precaution, always carry a copy of your passport, driver’s license among other necessary documents or have a photo of them saved on your phone.

If something is lost, the process of retrieving items will be infinitely easier. And along the same lines, always have copies of presentations and paperwork. Therefore, cheap ticket flights are available if you buy online in advance as it’s always good to be safe!

 

About Author:

Author of this content is a great blogger Yousuf A. Raza who loves guest blogging and content marketing. Currently, He is working as a digital marketing expert at Dream World Travel, Ltd. You can catch him at Facebook and Twitter to learn more about him.

 

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Blog

How I Grew Up to be the Dullest Person on Earth

How I Grew Up to be the Dullest Person on Earth

When studying Spanish verbs became my passion I knew things were getting bad. Very bad. It was time to expand my horizons.

Then I started teaching business English to students in China. My first class is at 06:00 so I am up at 05:00 to shower and to get organized. My new dull routine requires a 10:00 bedtime and I like to be home for an hour of down-time first. It is difficult to be a party animal when you go to bed at about the same time as the average 10-year old.

On-Line Teaching

Yes, on-line is the way of the future and it is revolutionizing the way people learn.

Things have come a long way since the days of making carbon copies on a manual typewriter in Stanley Mission.

Image courtesy of cisc1970 at Flickr

The photocopier was yet to be invented.

And a long way removed from when I taught in the Middle Kingdom in 1986-87, equipped only with a blackboard and a piece of chalk.

The joy of teaching at NowTutorMe is that all the material is prepared so it is just a matter of reviewing it, making some notes and then logging into the virtual classroom. And it can all be done from my office/bedroom in Medellin.

The platform is easy to use. As well as the materials, it has a chat-box so words and notes can be sent to the student. Amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching locally

So why didn’t I just look for a teaching job at one of the many language schools in Medellin?

Not a bloody chance. First of all, the hours are long and, secondly, the pay is ridiculously low. Other factors include teaching kids – ick –or travelling all over the city for lessons with adults as I did with Berlitz in Casablanca. No.

I checked out a couple of local English teaching jobs to give you an idea of just how bad it is.

Teaching job one

For $1,100CAD a month the teacher gets to work from 06:30 to 16:00 or 8.5 hours a day with an hour for lunch. Add it up and it is 42.5 hours a week or 170 a month.  By my calculation – and I hope I got it right as my math skills are at about a grade two level – it works out to $6.47 per hour.

Include an hour on the bus to both end of the day and it gets even worse. And don’t forget about prep and marking times. The teacher would, in fact, be working for about $4.00 an hour. Hells bells, the average babysitter in Canada makes $10.24.

Teacher job two

The hours for this one are great:

07:00 to 08:30, 17:00 to 20:00 and Saturdays from 09:00 to 12:00. And it pays $7.50 to $10CAD an hour. And the teacher only gets paid for teaching time.

The young and the energetic clutching their freshly printed TESL certificates are welcome to these jobs. Fortunately, beer here is about $1 a bottle so they can go out on Saturday night and knock back a few. The rest of their salary will go to rent, food and pre-paid mobile calls.

So even though I’m not going to get rich on $19CAD an hour – or $9.50 for each 25-minute class – I am still better off than most teachers in town. And I don’t have to ride the teeth-rattling-nerve-wracking bus twice a day.

I did a budget and figured out that I need to teach about 15 classes – seven and a half hours a week – to maintain a decent lifestyle with a few perks built in. My Canadian pension plan covers the rent, utilities and Internet. Income from writing is “money for jam,” as the New Zealand saying goes.

My dull routine

I am available for classes at 06:00, 07:00, 08:00, 09:00 and 10:00.

Students book well in advance, so it is just a matter of reviewing the material before heading into the virtual classroom. Even if I don’t have a class until 08:00, I am up at 05:00 and working on other projects – like writing content for Grizzly Coast Media.

As the classes are all 25 minutes some teachers work back-to-back. But I’m far too stress-resistant to do that. I prefer to teach one class an hour and use the time in between to make notes for the students and plan any newly booked classes. That way everything is done and dusted by 10:30 and the rest of the day is mine.

Future plans

The idea is to keep being dull, dull, dull as I’m enjoying the lifestyle. And I still have time to work on those Spanish verbs.

Categories
Blog

The Magic Music of the Maestro

The Maestro — which simply means “master” — ambled into a poetry reading at Ambrosia, the restaurant that has become the cultural center of the barrio. His slouched shuffle was a combination of the weight of the saxophone he carried in a black box on his back, his bad posture and plain exhaustion that was written in his sunken eyes.

Maestro — so called because of his saxophone playing prowess — is how everyone greeted him. As he walked through the crowd people shook his hand and touched him on the arm. I’ve asked a number of people his name, but nobody knew. Mention Maestro, however, and everyone nodded.

The Maestro playing at Ambrosia.

Although his curly hair isn’t in dreadlocks,  it hasn’t been combed in a long time and is loosely knotted so it falls down the back of his skinny body. The lines on his leathery face are ravine deep. Neither his body nor his clothes have been near much water for a considerable time.

The lyrics of Kris Kristofferson’s song “The Pilgrim” spring to mind: “See him wasted on the sidewalk, in his jacket and his jeans, wearin’ yesterday’s misfortunes like a smile.” While the Maestro wouldn’t know the song as it is in English, he lives it.

The music

The Maestro’s saxophone is his lifeblood. When he takes it out of the case he lovingly polishes it with the special cloth he carries in the box. Then when he puts the instrument to his lips and starts to play, people wonder how such a powerful sound can come from such a shrunken body. The music fills the room and stops the conversations.

The Maestro

It is raw talent released; he comes to life to play.

When his performance at the poetry reading finished, I asked Yoly – who owns Ambrosia – to please give me 5,000 pesos – about $2.50CAD – and to put it on my bill. When she shot me a quizzical look, I told her it was for the Maestro, because he looked sick. She nodded in agreement.

His story

Frankly, I haven’t got a clue.  But finding out about the Maestro’s  life is enough to inspire me to learn more Spanish. And I had better do it soon as he is fading. Quickly.

In the two or so years I have known who he is, and listened to his music, he has aged about 10 to 15. He has taken on that grey pallor that so many street people get before they check out. One factor could well be the constant sipping of aguardiente – the local hooch that makes Uncle Walter’s homebrew look user-friendly. Combine that with harsh street conditions, a bad diet and sheer poverty and it cuts down a life expectancy. How old is he? 40? 50? Maybe, but he looks 65 plus.

The Maestro and I have developed a relationship of sorts. He asks how I am; I tell him I enjoyed his music. Then I give him a kiss on the cheek, sip him a bit of money, and give him a hug across the back of his shoulders. The conversation is over until the next time we meet.

Hasta luego, Maestro. Meanwhile, keep playing because it keeps you alive.

 

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Blog

A Month After Meandering Back to Medellin

“Brace yourself,” instructed Alvaro, “here comes Raul.”

Raul is an older man – somewhere between 67 and 92 years of age, depending on which day you ask him – who shuffles, drools and splutters.

“When you were away, every time Raul saw me he made a bee-line to ask when you were coming back. After four months, I learned Raul-speak and am about the only person in the barrio who can understand him.”

Alvaro sighed and continued,” It got so bad that when Johana – our friend who runs a street bar –saw him she would hiss “Here comes Raul.” I would grab my cane and head for the bathroom and she would hide behind the counter.”

I turned around and Raul’s eyes lit up.

Raul and J

Since I moved into the neighbourhood , it has become my custom to hug Raul, ask him how he has been and give him a kiss on the cheek or the top of his head – depending on which is closer.

People walking by stare at the weird red-headed foreigner who is up close and personal with a shrunken guy who stammers.  Frankly, I couldn’t care less.  It takes so little on my part.

Johana appeared with a plastic chair. Raul sat down and ordered an aguardiente – the local hooch which is his triple of choice. He took a sip and burst into tears. Alvaro translated for me, “He says he didn’t think that you were ever really coming back and that I was just telling him that you were to keep an old man happy.” I leaned over and dabbed the water from his eyes with my scarf. Johana appeared with some napkins.

Really, does a “welcome home” get any better?

Where to live?

I knew that if I couldn’t find a place in Boston, the same barrio where I lived before my “exile” to Peru, I wouldn’t be happy.  The mere thought of living in El Poblado – the foreigner-infested suburb where the bourgeois hang out – makes Manta in Ecuador look like a viable option. Yoly — a friend who owns Ambrosia Café — insisted I stay with her and her partner, Eider until I found a place, as they had a spare bedroom.

Yoly, Eider and I went to Cuidad Cafe for pizza and wine.

A couple of days later she invited me to live with them. Really? I’m not sure I would want to share space with me as I am iconoclastic, eccentric and somewhat neurotic. Fortunately, they are so casual—and brave — that I thought it would work, so I jumped at the offer.

Brilliant move. We see each other early in the morning before they go to the restaurant.

By the time they come back at night I am either asleep or watching Spanish television in my room. Their bedroom has an ensuite, we don’t have to worry about bumping into each other in the middle of the night.

Our apartment building on a rainy day

 

Where I live for most of the time.

 

Coming in the front door.

 

 

 

 

 

The kitchen.
Bathroom the size of a USB, but it is all mine.

 

When I want to see Yoly and Eider, I go to the cafe. We have also divided the week into Monday, Wednesday, Friday speaking English as Yoly wants to learn the language and Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in español. Sunday is whatever. Apparently, my Spanish has improved dramatically, even though I don’t really notice.

The apartment is about a 10-minute walk from where I used to live. The greasy fast-food place on the first floor isn’t exactly exciting as the smell wafts up. However, it beats the hell out of the dogs, the blaring music and the evangelicals that used to drive me to distraction in the other place.

Oh, and I should mention that the rent is $125CAD a month. Utilities are another $25 and the wi-fi is $45.

To marry or not to marry?

That was the question, because it was the easiest way to be able to stay in Colombia which has a 180-day per calendar year rule for a tourist visa. In retrospect, the 90-day visa trips in Morocco and Argentina were such an easy option.

While it was annoying to have to leave the country every three months, it could be done. When I lived in Casablanca, for example, I once walked across the border at Ceuta, turned around and headed back. It was about 15 minutes out of Morocco, but was good for another 90-days.

Since I want to stay in Medellin, I have to figure out how to do it and the big M-word looked like the best option.

And there was no shortage of offers. Alvaro would marry me in a heartbeat.

Alvaro, my darling friend in Medellin. He lived in New York for 12 years and speaks English.

Now that same sex marriage is recognized in Colombia, Yoly offered to do the same. Fernando is back living with the woman he divorced years ago, but said she might not mind too much. And Gustavo – a street musician – said he was available. Tatiana – the ex-girlfriend of my high-school English teacher’s son – also offered.

Tatiana, lifted from Facebook as I don’t have any good photos of her.

But when she checked it with her father — who is an immigration lawyer — he cautioned that it would depend on the official processing the paper work given that she is 26 and I am 64.

The more I researched it, the more complicated it became. But it was a conversation with my mother who cautioned “I’m not sure it is a good idea” that did it as for me her advice is sage.

So now I have Jose – a poet friend – trying to get me an arts visa as a writer.

Jose reading at his book launch of “Poesia y Astronomia.”

I’ve started looking at being a student again until January 2018, when a weekend trip to Panama would get me another six months. Whatever, something will happen.

Why do I want to stay?

Actually, the answer is simple: the people, the climate – close to perfect year around – and the culture.  Vale – “okay” in English – so I have a bit of a problem with the food, but I carry a bottle of hot sauce in my handbag to get the spice hit I need.

What will happen next?

Damned if I know. But whatever, there are adventures waiting to happen.

My sister, Shelley, suggested I post some photos of my friends and my hangouts – so scroll down to see them.

People

Alvaro and Jhon at the January 25th gathering.
Senora Rosa and her granddaughter Maria. Taken in the supermarket by a friendly worker.
Alvaro, J and Alex hanging out in Parque Boston
Herrnan, the green-grocer at Placita de Flores, who told me he would never cheat me. Later I learned he supplies many restaurants in town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eider and Yoly in the metro-cable.
Sandra. Her uncle — who was a lawyer for the UN — checked out getting me a refugee visa for me.
Jorge Uribe, the painter, and J
Sylvia, my Medellin mother and matriarch of the barrio.
Jessie and Carlos at the rear patio at Ambrosia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maria-Elena with her yogurt.

 

 

 

Maria and Clara — at the Internet shop where I get all my printing done.
Enrique runs a great little bar and only plays salsa music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Places and Things

Yoly organized a happy birthday and welcome home gathering for January 25, complete with cake.

 

Can you find me in the mural Eidad’s father painted at Ambrosia?
Taking the metro-cable to get to Saint Elena for a Sunday lunch.
The traffic in Medellin is best describled as horrible — particularly when it is raining.
The trambia — train — runs on this street, so it is traffic free. Medellin is winning international awards for urban development and public transport.
Another touch of culture in the barrio.
A typical convenience shop found every half-a-block.
At Johanna’s sidewalk bar, but no grill. We need to get food down the street.
D1 — De Uno — where everything is in bulk, cheap and cash only at the till.
The greasy fast-food place on the first floor. Smell of oil and restaurant kitchen conversation free.
Parque Periodista where people smoke marijuana and drink beer without any problem with the police.

 

The bar we call Celena’s, even though it is owned by Gabriel, far right.
Categories
Guest Posts

How To Prep For Your Whale Watching Trip – guest post by Mia at Sydney Princess Cruises

Whale watching is an amazing experience which should not be missed if you have the opportunity. If you are living in Sydney or plan to visit it between May and November this year, you should definitely put the jaw-dropping whale watching experience on your list of things to do. Whales are wonderful creatures and display their awe inspiring majesty by jumping and breaching the surface of the ocean.

There are several whale watching summer boat cruise options in Sydney. So before you venture into whale watching there are certain things you need to prepare yourself for. They are as follows:

  1. Know when the whale watching season is

This is the most important and obvious tip. You don’t want to get excited and find out at the last minute that there are no whale watching cruises available or even if you go, you don’t get your money’s worth by not seeing any whale. Whales are migrating mammals, so they are active during both summers and winters. This is one reason why you wouldn’t find any humpback whales near Sydney between December and April – it’s off season!

  1. Find out where the best whale hangout is

Whales are social mammals and tend to swim together in groups or “schools” as they are called. They can also be found travelling separately with their offspring and like to socialize with other whales. Ask your local whale watching tourism guide or centre where they plan to take you.

  1. Prep for the weather

You need to prepare yourself for any rough weather. Strong winds and high tides aren’t favourable for whale watching. Lucky for you, Sydney experiences rough seas during December and January, when the whales are halfway on their migration to Hawaii. That does not however mean that you skip out on checking the local weather forecast before making any plans for whale watching.

  1. Your whale watching gear
  • Sydney gets a lot of sun during the summer and is famous for its beach culture and coastal life so always use a good SPF level sunscreen. Wear sunglasses and hats as well to protect yourself from any glaring sunlight.
  • Take a good camera which can zoom quite ahead so that you can take great pictures for your whale watching
  • Get good binoculars for some closer views.
  • Wear appropriate clothing, even though it might be summers but it can get windy or chilly at sea, so always take a jacket with you.
  • Pack some food for your hunger cravings. Most whale watching cruises offer food so you don’t have to bring any. It’s included in their package.
  • If you get seasick or don’t know if you are prone to sea sickness, it is always a good idea to bring your medicines with you.
  1. Choose the best whale watching tour

It’s really important to do your research in order to get the best whale watching experience and your money’s worth. There are many great whale watching tours available in Sydney during summer, which offer attractive packages for everyone. So choose wisely and enjoy the experience.

 

Categories
Guest Posts

Relive Australia Day By Cruising—guest post by Mia Alindogan

Australia Day is dubbed as the Australian version of Thanksgiving. It’s a day when Australians celebrate the First Fleet arriving in Port Jackson on the 26 of January.

Australian Day Citizenship ceremony. The Aboriginals were here first and everyone else is an immigratn. The trend continues.
Australian Day Citizenship ceremony. The Aboriginals were the first people in Australia everyone else is an immigrant. The trend continues.

What better way to celebrate and relive this special event by spending it on a day cruise! The Sydney Harbour is a sight worth seeing with its sparkling blue coastline and the Sydney Opera House.

Some people enjoy the amazing fireworks on Australia Day while others just relish the delicious barbeque in the perfect weather.

Image courtesy of Julle at Flickr.
Image courtesy of Julle at Flickr.

Friends and family gather for an ideal day of feast and festivities to mark their national pride.

Kick off this day with arranging an all day cruise with a company offering exclusive Australia Day Cruise packages to make your day fun and special.

Image courtesy of timeyres @ Flickr
Image courtesy of timeyres @ Flickr

Some people enjoy sun bathing on the beach, others having roasts and barbeques in their backyard while you can take it up a notch by doing it on a cruise and actually relive the day by the Sydney Harbour.  There is so much to do on Australia Day. Other than the fireworks and the food, there is ferry racing, fly-overs and tall ship parade, tugboat ballet and much more.

Pictures by James Morgan (0403 892304)- Free images for use in online and editorial only (NO SALES/NO ADVERTISING) - on behalf of PULSE COMMUNICATIONS/CARNIVAL - please credit images by James Morgan if used or issued. For further information please contact Lyndsey Gordon, Pulse Communications, 02 8281 3839/0449 257095 Sydney Harbour, Australia Ð 17th October 2012 - Carnival Spirit, the newest and largest ship to call Australia home year round, gets an Aussie welcome with a little koala attached to the funnel, as she sails into Sydney Harbour for the first time. The ship from the worldÕs largest cruise line is too big to get under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and if tipped on her stern, the 292.6 metre long Carnival Spirit would stretch more than 42 metres above the observation deck of Sydney Tower, the cityÕs tallest building. Sailing into Sydney with up to 2,680 guests and 1,000 crew, Carnival Spirit offers more accommodation than AustraliaÕs largest hotel, the 658-room Crown Metropol in Melbourne and has more balcony cabins than any other ship based in Australia. With the steepest and fastest waterslide at sea, over 40 onboard activities per day and 20 restaurants, bars and lounges Ð big is definitely better on Carnival Spirit Ð SydneyÕs latest holiday destination.
Pictures by James Morganf the Sydney Opera House lit up in all its glory as you cruise by it.

 

Many cruises specially decorate your entire boat with special Australia Day themed items and flags, party memorabilia, etc., so that you truly enjoy the national day. Cruises offer a wide array of delicious things to indulge in. From canapés and treats to buffets and cocktails, they have got it all covered. Let the open bar set up in the boat with the bar tender take care of you and your guests, enjoying the day will be really easy as the infectious celebratory vibes are all around.

Since it’s a family-friendly day, why not bring your entire family including kids out for a fun time at the harbour?  Older people can enjoy it as well and they have special accommodations for people with disabilities. It’s fun for all ages. Nowadays, cruise boats have exclusive kids’ areas so you don’t have to worry about bored kids bothering you by asking “when can we go home?” over and over again. Although the sea and fireworks will keep them pretty much preoccupied all the time, there are fun activities and games available in the cruise as well. This will ensure that you have a relaxing time with other adults.

If you have never planned your national day out like this before, then look no further. Surprise your family and friends by booking an amazing and unforgettable journey across the Sydney Harbour. You will not regret it and who knows, you might even make it an annual family tradition.

 

Categories
Blog

As Educate a Girl Fades Out, Voice Steps in

It was a Saturday morning when Nick the tuk-tuk driver went to see Karen.

“My mother sent me to tell you that we don’t need sponsorship for the girls anymore.

Karen and Da when we all went to Kep for a weekend.
Karen and Da — Nick’s mother –when we all went to Kep for a weekend.
Pannie, Lina, Nita, Lin
Pannie, Lina, Nita, Lin

She sold some land and I am making money, so we can pay their school fees. Please thank your friends for their help. We might need it again when the girls go to university.”

It would have been so easy for Nick to just keep collecting the money to pay for his daughter’s education.

But he fronted up becuase his family  had the money and they are very proud and independent people.

Now this is a story of true development and responsibility.

One of my many criticisms of NGOs is that they create a dependency and take on the role of being “indispensable.” And, of course, there is also their constant money-chase for funding – to cover high salaries and expensive accommodation for their expat staff. Enough.

So just as Down in the Dumps quietly exited, it was time for Educate a Girl to do the same.

The history

A few years ago, Nick asked me to help sponsor his oldest daughter, Lina, to go to a better school.

Lina starts school.
Lina starts school.

I contacted my friend, Iris, as I am so good at spending her money for good causes.

Iris
Iris

Then Nita and Pannie – the second and third daughters — threw a hissy fit as they, too, wanted a better education.

My high school friend Dennis sponsored Pannie; Karen and Andrew paid Nita’s fees. When Lin – the youngest – started school I covered her expenses until I left the Kingdom. By then Karen had moved to Phnom Penh and she took over the project and patched Lin’s tuition together with contributions from various people.

Karen is now back in Australia and working in a rural – read remote and in the middle of nowhere – area. Consequently, the project we’d started of sending Noit and Lan – the two six-or-so-year old girls we know from the garbage dump – to school became problematic.

Noit started school last year and the first term for Lan was paid to begin in 2017.

Lan is ready to start.
Lan is ready to start. Photo credit: Hillary Laman
Noit in her uniform.
Noit in her uniform.

As an aside, when Karen went to the school to check about getting some new uniforms for Noit, the administration told her that somebody from her family had already paid $30 and had promised to return with the other 10.

Translated, that means that people from the dump are helping to pay for Noit’s education, which confirms they take it seriously. Karen figured it was likely her grandfather who went to the school.

Noit with her proud grandmother, Malay.
Noit with her proud grandmother, Malay.

Connecting with Voice

What to do? What to do? Karen was leaving for Australia, I was in Peru and we didn’t have an efficient way to get the money for the two girl’s school fees to the Kingdom.

This is where Voice — www.voice.org.au — came to the rescue.

Organized by Hillary Laman, Voice is a non-profit that works with street and disadvantaged children. Voice has taken Noit and Lan on as part of their programme and the girls will both have Khmer case workers to monitor their progress.

Reprinted from the Khmer Times, here is the piece Karen wrote about the organization.

Karen Owens, R.N. Friday, 26 August 2016

Having a VOICE in Phnom Penh

Throughout the world many families and children are homeless or displaced. This week I talked to Hillary Larman, a representative for VOICE in Cambodia. VOICE is a small organization in Phnom Penh supporting groups of people affected by homelessness.
What is VOICE?
VOICE works with people in crisis to help them access their basic human rights. Our method is to listen first. We use a participatory approach because we believe it is the people themselves that must lead the path to their own development and future.
We want to give a voice to marginalized and disempowered people. We work to address the immediate crisis while making a sustainable plan for the future, helping people gain independence.
VOICE envisages a world where individual voices are heard, people are no longer marginalized and disempowered, and human rights are respected and upheld.
How does VOICE support these people?
We work with about 300 families all in a specific community; we do some outreach when we have been introduced to some people, generally in a very specific community, because of forced evictions. Many of these people are in a state of crisis years after being evicted.
A state of crisis means a lot of different things to different people.
We have criteria and it might mean that they are in immediate danger or don’t have shelter, or they only eat once a day or have a case of thalassemia with no access to blood transfusions. Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder in which the body makes an abnormal form of hemoglobin.
When we identify people in crisis, we develop a long-term plan with them by addressing their immediate needs.
Where did these people end up when they were evicted?
Initially, many of these people were moved to another urban slum and others were just living amongst the rubble.
I see that you help children get into schools?
We have three types of programs:

  1. Helping People in Crisis (individual case management to help clients transition from crisis to independence). Our goal is to address the crisis that is putting their family in a more vulnerable situation and easing them into independence where they can support themselves.
  2. Helping Children Access School (daily lunch, transport to school, yearly school pack, individual case management/counseling, homework assistance, regular first aid). Essentially we are helping children stay in school. The children that qualify for the program get a school pack, with their school uniforms and supplies. We provide a tuk tuk to take them to and from school and they eat lunch at our center. They also get individual case management to ensure that they are doing well and coping at school and home.
  3. Helping Sick Children Access Healthcare (includes the thalassemia project and general medical emergencies). Reducing the impact of sickness on children, we try to find medical care for children. We also help children affected by illness, say if their mother is sick and they cannot go to school because they have to work.

Thank you Hillary for sharing with us the important work that VOICE is doing for families affected by homelessness and displacement.

How can you help?

Glad you asked that question.

Karen and I are committed to raising enough money for Voice to cover the school fees for Noit and Lan to attend a good private school. This means Khmer classes in the morning and English in the afternoon with lunch provided in-between.

It costs $1,600USD per year, or $800 each.

Lan was always one of my favorite dump kids. She considered being perched on my hip as being her rightful place.
Lan was always one of my favorite dump kids. She considered being perched on my hip as being her rightful place.

Okay, so that is where you come in.

Expect an email asking you to continue to contribute to a good cause – and educating a girl from the dump is about as exemplary as it gets.

Akun (thank-you in Khmer).

Categories
Blog

“There Are Going to be a Lot of Surprises This Weekend”

“There Are Going to be a Lot of Surprises This Weekend”

¨How do you manage to do it?” June asked when I told her that Ana and David had invited me to go to their ocean-front house for the weekend. “You move around all over the world and always meet such interesting people.”

“We still talk about your friends in Casablanca,’ she continued.

The Cook family – June, her late husband George, daughter Nancy, son-in-law Nelson and grandson John – visited me in Casablanca in 2010.

John, Nancy, Nelson, George, June, J
John, Nancy, Nelson, George, June, J

As I lived in Derb Omar in the old part of the city, we were well off the tourist trail.

“Remember when your friend invited us to her villa? We couldn’t believe the opulence – the massive furniture, the plush rugs and the family portraits. Then the maid served the most delicious sweets. And the tea-pouring ceremony was a work of art.”

Naima pouring tea.
Naima pouring tea.

I smiled as I remembered the afternoon when Hadjia Naima invited us to visit. That evening I took the entourage to the Churchill Club where they were impressed with Judge Bouchid and Jalil.

The Churchill Club in Casablanca
The Churchill Club in Casablanca

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, I do manage to find spectacular people.

The invitation

“Ana is a friend of Alvaro’s – even though he hasn’t seen her in 40 years — so he gave me her phone number. She is a very talented artist and we collaborated on an article.”

Ana’s email instructed me to meet them at La Baguette in Miraflores at 10:30 on Saturday morning. Vale. Details like where we were going or how long we would be gone weren’t important.

Over breakfast at the restaurant I asked Ana about our destination and she shook her head.

“That is still a secret, but there will be a lot of surprises this weekend.”

“Fantastic. Count me in.”

The surprises start

The first one likely wasn’t on the list.  David got behind the wheel and we headed out of the city. He drove well and confidently.

After the kamikazes and Formula One bus drivers of Medellin, it was a delight to just sink back in the seat without being bounced around to the point of acquiring bruises.

We stopped at a market in Mala, a small town on the way to their house. Shades of Placita de Florez. I trailed after Ana as she bought fish, vegetables and flowers.

Ana picking out the fresh fish she wants.
Ana picking out the fresh fish she wants.

 

The bustle and life of markets is the pulse of the country. Fresh, cheap, in-season and where the real people shop. Supermarkets are sterile, non-interactive and dull. Spare me. img_0003

 

 

 

 

Just before we arrived there were two tunnels cut through the underside of the mountains.

Cut through the rock.
Cut through the rock.

My first experience in raw boulders.  Much more beautiful and rustic than the cement covered versions as it lets people see exactly how much work it was to create the passage.

 

 

 

The house

Then we arrived at their house. Mansion might be more descriptive as it sleeps up to 14 people. It was huge and filled with Ana’s art. And it opened onto the beach. I breathed in the sea air and slid into relax mode.

The house/mansion.
The house/mansion.

 

A lounge to sink into.
A lounge to sink into.

 

 

 

 

img_0037

An hour or so after we arrived, David and Ana went for a swim. img_0008Temperature wimp that I am, I managed to get my ankles wet. It was relaxing and reflective to stroll along the beach and dig my toes into the sand at sunset.

The food

Ana organized the food she had bought and prepared a gourmet fish dinner. Not exactly a surprise, as I suspected she was adapt in the kitchen.

Ana pouring rose. Note the table and chairs she designed.
Ana pouring rose. Note the table and chairs she designed.

While the quality of her meals was well out of my league – hey, I do a great boiled egg – I am an appreciative eater. I would have asked for her recipe for preparing fish that is similar to ceviche, but different, except that the chances of me getting it right are limited.

Hand-painted plates.
Hand-painted plates.

 

 

 

 

 

Both Ana and David are polyglots and worldly. They met when Ana was studying in Paris and David was working in Germany. About 20 years ago they moved to Lima. So we talked about art, world affairs and whatever other topics that wove themselves into our conversation.

Conversation over diner and a bottle of rose was delightful. While I have met friendly people in Peru, intellectual isn’t exactly an adjective that springs to mind for the locals at the Plaza de Armas in Surco.

Ana and David at lunch.
Ana and David

 

J and Ana
J and Ana

 

 

 

 

 

The ambience

The sound of the waves rolling in was hypnotic.

View from the front door.
View from the front door.
A selfie on the beach.
A selfie on the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The quiet, the peace and the calm wrapped around me like a cocoon. So by about 21:30 I started to yawn.

Early to bed meant an early to rise at about 04:30. I wandered out to look at the ocean. There was a light on the fishing boats pulled up on the shore. Beautiful.

At 06:30 I walked on the beach. Just me and the seagulls. img_0002

After an hour on the shore I curled up on the terrace and surprised myself by finishing transferring Spanish verbs from one book to another. This had been a drag-on project that seemed to go on forever, so it was liberating to get it done.

The unexpected

Having kicked back into totally relaxed mode, I didn’t pay attention to the cupboard next to the bedroom door. So with Spanish books in hand, I whacked my head on the side of it. I must have hit a vein as the blood started to pour down my face. More drama than injury.

I wet my karma – never underestimate the uses of those Cambodian scarves – and David gave me a chunk of ice. Medical incident solved. Note to self: pay attention to space and distance.

The return

After another of David and Ana’s gourmet meals we packed up and headed back to Lima.

img_0008

As fresh and as tropical as it gets.
Fresh and tropical.

Less traffic, an enjoyable trip.

While it wasn’t unexpected as I knew it would be enjoyable, my weekend at the ocean has been the highlight of my time in Peru.

Intelligent company, gourmet food and all sorts of surprises. Really, does it get any better?