Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Flying Outta There

Yesterday afternoon Denise finally got the email from Ross, telling her whether she passed or not. The road to that email was stressful as all hell.

After she had finished her exam, there was the usual self-doubt and concern about passing. I have never concerned myself with this stage of her studies, since her record indicates that she always passes with flying colours. This time, however, there was a difference in her tone. She was genuinely concerned that she didn't pass, in part because she had received her lowest score in Ross just a week before, and in part because of clerical errors on the university's part that put her at a disadvantage. Doubt crept into my mind, but I knew if I agreed with her in her concern, she would have a meltdown, and then I would probably also have a meltdown. So best just put the best face on and avoid this situation.

Not sure if the bloody lady would be Denise or me.

I was really looking forward to the flight out of the island, watching the mountains pass beneath us, listening to my victory music and celebrating. My thoughts, however, went something like this, in repeat, as I watched Dominica slip away

Holy sexy balls we're outta here! Victory is ours!
Oh shit but what if I have to come back?
No, no, of course not, don't be ridiculous. This is it. We're done here, folks.
Well, regardless, we get to go home for the holidays.
Oh yes! Right!
Family is great!
Yes it is! 
Yay for family!
But it'll suck quite a bit if we have to come back in January.
Damnit, we're done here, brain.

We didn't know when Denise would get her grades, but we had an inside source that indicated they would be released Monday afternoon. We had a layover that day in Barbados from 10am to 4pm. The four hours spent before the plane took off was a compulsive refreshing of the email, and a slowly growing tension. We boarded the plane without information, but almost certain that when we landed in Toronto five hours later, there would be a message waiting for her that would determine our next four months. We were each getting more stressed, I imagine her moreso than me, but tried to keep our collective cools because there is unfortunately no internets up in the skies.

We arrive in Toronto and get through customs, transfer our luggage, and nervously make our way to Tim Hortons. She checks the internet as I get a milk and a donought. I watch her with bubbling anxiety. She looks up and shakes her head sadly.

Holy shit did she fail?

"No email," she says.

I nearly keel over. Oh Christ I hate this goddamned university.

Now we have to get on another flight, the red-eye to Vancouver, but we can at least take small comfort in the fact that no one at Ross is going to work past 8pm, so we won't get any news until the next day. The flip side, of course, is that Ross is four hours ahead of Vancouver, so the grades could be up any time after 4am in Vancouver. This means no sleepy-time for Denise.

She woke at 9am, checked her email. Nothing. 10am, nothing. 11am, nothing. By noon, we hadn't heard anything, and I could hear an ulcer forming in Denise's stomach as she had to leave for a doctor's apointment. As fate would have it, Ross sent out the email as soon as she was stuck in a doctor's office with no internet, and her appointment was running late (thank you facebook updates for letting me know about this). I call and let her know they're up, but she wants to wait to check for herself instead of getting me to access her email. So we wait. I turn to her brother, who is in the kitchen.

"This is going to be the most stressful fifteen minutes of my life. You might want to get a camera."

Her brother mutters nonsensically into his chest.

Five minutes later, she calls me in a panic, and walks me through how to check her scores. I open her email. Unfortunately, there's no big bright button that says "YOU PASSED MOTHAFUCKA!", but she walks me through how to interpret the numbers, and I inform her in relief that she has finished her second year of medical school. Jubilations all around, and then I hang up.

Yesterday was the celebration we'd been holding off. We ain't never goin back to Dominica (hopefully). I then proceeded to listen to my victory song. Everyone has one, and if they don't they should. Mine is The Obvious Child by Paul Simon. And oh it sounded so sweet. We're Michigan-bound, ladies and gentlemen.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Now departing

Ladies and gentlemen, we are theoretically* departing tomorrow morning. We will be blawging until New Year's Eve, and then we'll switch to another blog, the name of which will be held a closely guarded secret.

Peace out, Dominica!

*Provided that Liat doesn't fuck with our day, as it has several close friends of ours.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Our Parents

I’ve begun a new writing project, which started with a thought I had when we last visited Vancouver. My aunt and uncle invited us over for a meal with my mother and father, and as we waited for the dinner to start, my uncle Brian told us a story about his mother getting lost in an airport.

I asked him to write it down for me, and he was kind enough to do so; you can find it at the bottom of this post. It’s a great story, and Brian is a remarkable orator. Stories like his should be written down. And that’s where this project was born.

It’s called Our Parents. It’s a collection of people telling stories about their parents.

Painting by John McLean

At least once a week, I’ve been interviewing someone I know. I try not to look for any specific content before beginning the interview. The only criteria I have is to keep as close to a balance of the sexes as possible, and look for geographical variety. And it turns out that Dominica is a great place to start a project like this, since there are so many expats from all over North America. I have interviewed sixteen so far.

Every time I sit down with someone, I try to cover at least these questions:

-Where are your parents now and what do they do?
-What would dinner with your parents be like?
-How has your perception of your parents changed from childhood?
-Do you have any memories of them that stand out for you?

After each interview, I transcribe much of it, and turn it into a three to five page entry. I do my best to keep myself out of them, and concentrate on the words of the interviewee.

So far I’ve noticed that the people I interview, afterwards, are nervous about the process. “How’d I do?” is a common question. What I’ve found is that while the content is always different in its tone – whether sad, happy, mundane, or exciting – it’s always important to them, and that’s what makes every story carry such weight. Everyone has something to say about their parents that has depth and importance to them.

I hope to start a blog in a couple of months, where once a week I’ll upload an interview. After a year, I hope to offer the stories, as well as a few extra ones, in a book format available for purchase, with proceeds likely going to charity. Stay tuned.

Please let me know if you would like to be interviewed. With the magic of technology, we could record something over Skype, so geography makes little difference. The stories I’m collecting don’t need to be epic in scale; they just need to be important to you.

I’m also keeping an eye on possibly making this more than just a one-man project. If anyone is interested in conducting interviews as well, I think that would create some great diversity. Let me know if there is any interest.

I hope that when the time comes, you’ll come check out the website once a week. I’m pretty excited about this.

Thanks. Here is Brian’s story.

This past summer my mother visited my brother in Vernon, BC, by plane.  Our job was to help her with the transfer from one airline to another en route, to ensure she got home alright.  The flight to Vernon worked well at the beginning of the week. So, at the end of the week this is the story of picking up my mom at YVR main terminal and driving her over the South Terminal for the second leg of her flight home, on a small regional airline.

I arrived early at YVR, checked the monitor, and went directly to Baggage Carousel #3 where the bags from mom’s WestJet flight would be tumbling down to my waiting hands.  As I had time, I wandered over to the baggage agent, told him my mom regularly got confused, and that we had asked for help getting her from the airplane to the Baggage area to meet me.  I asked where the staff was likely to bring her.  He told me they would come down the elevator a short distance from Carousel #3 and I should wait for her there, but they would be the last ones off the plane, should be another 15 minutes.

I waited at the elevator for about 5 minutes until mom tapped me on the shoulder from behind.  She had NOT accepted the help that had been arranged, but had followed the crowd.  When I challenged (chastised?) her on that, she said that although my sister in law had worked hard with the WestJet staff to arrange help for her, she decided she didn’t need it.  However, as the two of us stood waiting for her bag, a fellow passenger came up and said to mom “so you found him did you?”  Mom then admitted that she had needed a “little bit” of help, so had asked people, as she followed the crowd, how to get to where her son was waiting.

But, we had a great visit and she told me how good the visit was in the Okanagan.  We had a long lunch and a great chat at the South Terminal, and talked twice with Martin at the KD counter about making sure that he didn’t send her suitcase on to Toronto like some other agent had done many years ago.  He seemed to take it well.  In fact he was great, and assured me that he would watch out for both her and her bags.  But I was prepared to wait for the rest of our 3.5 hour transition between flights.

However, I got a call from a client in Regina asking where the files were that I had promised by mid-day.  I told him they were all sent this morning before 9am, but he hadn’t received them and needed to have them before he left the office.  So… I talked again to mom who encouraged me to leave (“I have waited for flights before you know”) and to Martin (“don’t worry, I will look after her”) and rushed home to resend the files to Regina.

I was only home for 10 minutes when my sister Alison called from Parksville.  It was her job, as part of the family relay, to usher mom off the 20 minute KD Air flight to Parksville and drive her home.  She called to say she had just come in to receive a voicemail from Mom.  “Alison, I am here at the airport.  Are you coming to get me?”. This is at 3:50pm, 25 minutes before her flight leaves Vancouver.  The call had come from the gift shop at the South Terminal (free call, instead of having to pay at the bank of pay phones five feet away).  Alison asks “What is going on???”

I immediately called KD Air’s head office, which was kind enough to give me Martin’s cell number.  I call.  He says “she is sitting right in front of me.  She’s just fine.  Don’t worry!”  I asked to speak to her, and he turned over the phone.  She says, “I am sitting right where you left me, but Alison hasn’t come to pick me up”.  I said, “that’s because you are still in Vancouver and Alison is waiting for you in Parksville”.  She says “Oooooh, of course…”
I hear her saying to Martin, “I am in the wrong airport, I’m supposed to be in the Parksville airport”.  Then the line goes dead. 

Of course, it is my own fault.  No use blaming her.  I was sure she was lucid when I left, and she was.  Until about 5 minutes after I left her.  The real problem is that now my wife Linda says that “you won’t be trusted with your new grand daughter Abby, you know”.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Victory Lap, and More Odds and Ends.

In the next few days I expect a flurry of posts coming from me, and I'm sure Denise is going to want to catch up on her blawg writing. In the meantime, some odds and ends.

Denise is done. Like, done done. She is now half a doctor. She is Dr./2 Denise Sousa. Expect a long-ass post from her soon.

I've decided to take a victory lap on Island Thrift. After a year of running around the island getting ridiculous documents, with intermittent agonizing breaks of waiting for a fax or two, it looks like the business is going to be starting up in the next semester. It sucks that I won't be able to see it open, but in the meantime, I'll declare victory. Congrats to Nick and Carly on closing the deal, and I hope the business rocks the shit.

I don't know why my arm is like that.

I walk really hardcore, apparently.

I've never taken to nicknames, or rather they've never taken to me. Recently a nickname for me has surprisingly sprung up, and it has evolved. They have been:

Mark McFuckingTie

Mark McFuckingMoustache

Mark McFuckingHaircut

Mark McFuckingAdvil

Mark McFuckingChickenWings

Mark McFuckingOutOfHere

Mork McFookinOotOofHere

There seems to be a trend.

This plane has little to do with what I'm talking about. But I'm a be on it soon!
Our apartment is emptying in a hurry. It's kind of nice, if sterile, and it really hits home how much shit we normally have. It's a strange thought that one day we'll just live in one place and be able throw all our excess crap in an attic. More likely a storage space, though, because neither of us want to not live in an apartment.

Holy shit she's done! She's done!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Basket Ceremony

At the Prep School there's a lovely tradition: since the staff and children rotate so often with the ever changing student body, the school takes some time at the end of each semester to honour departing students and teachers. They're a pleasure to watch, because it creates such great catharsis, as anyone can say a few kind words about whomever is leaving. Denise was there to take pictures and video, but unfortunately it's unethical for me to post videos or photographs with students in them without parents' permission, so we'll have to forego that. I can, however, show the basket and the letters the students wrote.

It's a humbling experience, to sit in front of a community you've been a part of for over a year, and hear them talk about how you've contributed. I can be a pretty talkative guy, and I like to tease, but when it comes to accepting compliments I tend to become shy. I don't know how to take genuine kind words (my instinct is to make fun of everything), so I smile, nod, and say thank you. Afterwards, one of the teachers I work closely with came up to me, punched my arm, pointed a finger at me, and laughed.

"Ha ha! You almost cried! When have you ever been shy? Ha ha ha."

Apparently some of the teachers in the crowd got a kick out of the fact that I was lost for words. It's only fair that I get my comeupance: I talk a lot of smack at the school.

It was a fantastic way to leave the prep school, as I dwindle my hours there. The things that were said were heartwarming and kind. Amongst my favourites would be from a girl in pre-kindergarten, who said "Mr. Mark is a nice boy."

Also honoured was Brandi, a good friend of mine here, for her work with Jack, who tore down the house when he said goodbye to her. I'll miss working with her, and I'll definitely miss working at the school.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Odds and Ends

In the spirit of writing more before we go, there were a few mentionable experiences for me this week.

I went to meet some friends at the one cafe in town, Rituals - about a ten minute walk from my house. It was pissing rain. Like an idiot, I had lost my awesome umbrella up at De Champs, a bar up a very steep hill, and there was no way I was going to retrieve it. Instead, I bought a cheap 4$ US umbrella from the store near my house, and prayed that it would hold. Little did I know that it would look so cool. On the outside, the umbrella is sleek and silver, like something out of the Matrix, but on the inside is autumn leaves! It's also too small. I look hip.

I imagine that my father will tell me it's bad luck to open an umbrella indoors, just as I should be spelling "theater" like "theatre". I'm crazy like that.
When I got to the cafe, I ordered a Java Chip Chiller (the alternative to Frappucinos), a bacon cheeseburger, and a cookie. The cashier took my order, and another worker came up to me.

"Why are you so big, Dennis?" They call me Dennis there, and I don't have the heart to correct them. The chain of events is this: I used to go by myself, then I used to go with Denise. When Denise came they would take her name, but couldn't pronounce it properly, so they called her Dennis. When I started going back alone, they kept calling me Dennis. They don't remember her, though, and always ask her name.

"What do you mean, big? Like I've been working out, or eating too much?"

She laughed. "No, your face, your face is so big now."

I didn't know how to take this. "It might be because I'm about to eat a burger and a cookie and drink a chiller."

She shook her head and smiled. "Oh Dennis."


The other day I was about to go to work, when I saw from our balcony that the sea was choppy. The Caribbean is rarely choppy. It's a very calm sea. So I decided to walk along the ocean to work (admittedly, this is a statement I'll miss saying). I've never seen the water like this. The waves were large and angry, and the sky dark. The water would reach to the top of the sand and into the folliage. I often had to sprint across sections when the waves receded to keep my shorts from getting wet. I really wish the sea was like that most days. A calm ocean is nice, but an angry one is exciting.

Today was the first time this semester that I had to say goodbye to a student for good, because he is leaving the island early for vacation. I guess I have to get use to it. These are kids I've known for over a year, and they're the longest relationships I've forged yet as a teacher. Next week the school will be doing something called a Basket Ceremony, where they sit down teachers and students who are leaving, and everyone takes turns saying something nice about them. At the end, they are given a hand-made local basket. It's a lovely ceremony to watch, and I'm sure it will be lovely to participate in it. I can't wait.