I just finished an intensive permaculture design course (PDC) through the Caribbean Permaculture Research Institute (CPRI) in Barbados. The course was held at Walkers Reserve (a sand quarry that is being turned into a nature reserve). My goal was to earn my permaculture design certificate, but I gained so much more.
The course opened my mind and senses to the natural flow of elements and the man-made obstructions that disturb this flow. I began to understand that resilience to climate change is all about enabling natural processes to work; and that permaculture is more than just a way of farming, it is a philosophical position that is in harmony with our natural ecosystem.
The formal definition of permaculture states:
Permaculture it is a set of agricultural design principles that focus on natural ecosystems and simulates patterns found in nature.
Permaculture principles provide alternative techniques to the destruction caused by intensive commercial farming.
Permaculture includes regenerative agricultural techniques that focus on bringing life (microbes) back to soil destroyed by the use of chemicals (fertilisers and pesticides). Regenerative agriculture strengthens the health of the soil, and healthy soil is much more resilient to extreme weather conditions brought on by climate change. We learned to see that everything living is energy, from dry leaves to grass clippings and all organic material. Mulch is energy that can be used to cover the soil (keep moisture in) and feed the microorganisms below it. We touched on syntropic agriculture as well, but with so much to learn that topic will be for another course.
Our instructors – Erle Rahaman Noronha (@FarmerErle) of Wa Samaki Ecosystems and multimedia artist and ecologist Johnny Stollmeyer (@johnstollmeyer) – led us through everything from water harvesting, composting, and root crop planting, to grafting, layering, and social permaculture.
We were taught to see patterns in nature, to read the land and use all of our senses to discover them. We were told about people so tuned-in to nature they could understand bird calls, one predicted the arrival of a red-tailed hawk 10 minutes before it appeared because he could distinguish the warnings sent by other birds.
Understanding natural patterns requires connecting with all of your senses and waking your intuitive perception.
One morning Erle sent us to find a spot to sit and open our senses to the land around us. I closed my eyes and could smell the sweet scent of warm grass and hear bees buzzing close by. I remembered doing this as a child on our farm in southern Ontario. The fields and the smell of the long grass – and running through it with arms stretched wide as an August thunderstorm rumbled in the distance; the chatter of birds and the silence that settled over the woods warning a predator was near. I caught the scent of the ocean and could just make out the low rumble of waves pounding on the beach in the distance. A cloud passed over the sun and the birdsong lessened, like a pause in music, it pulled me to listen for sounds further off. The tapping of banana leaves and call from a parakeet looking for friends reminded me of the distance I have travelled since those days on our farm.
I caught hold of something there at Walkers Reserve – something deep inside me, the intuitive voice that informs my perceptions. Years spent surrounded by concrete, traffic, and cement structures has dulled it, but with a little nurturing I will learn to rely on it again.
The course was filled with practical learning as well, but I was drawn to the social side of permaculture. Social permaculture is defined as the art of building community and relationships. It is about designing social structures that favour beneficial patterns of human behavior – earth care, people care, and fair share are some of its principles. Climate change is forcing society to adjust our behavior, social permaculture offers an outline on how to do it.
Mother nature has a way of always balancing the earth – we pollute and destroy her ecosystems and she throws extreme weather that lowers food production and forces us to change.
Someone in the class asked Erle why he didn’t use the word sustainable but instead always seemed to use regenerative. His response,
It depends… would you want a sustainable marriage or a regenerative marriage?
We learned how to create permaculture designs, and were assigned the job of designing for clients who had very unique challenges. As we went about our work I realized we were able to come up with designs and solutions easily because Erle and Johnny had taught us to see the world differently, to feel it living and breathing around us.
The destruction that humans are doing to the natural world, the loss of wildlife, and topsoil; the pollution and devastation humanity has caused … can be very depressing, but learning about permaculture as helped me see that there is hope. There are others who care and they have found a way to regenerate the soil we have killed, and the ecosystems we destroyed.
If you are feeling a little short on hope please take the time to find a permaculture course near you, learn how to use all your senses, and build healthy relationships and communities.
Today Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving, and those of us living abroad are planning our turkey dinners. It is a day to think about what we have to be thankful for.
I am thankful to be living in Barbados.
Living here I am constantly reminded of the similarities and differences between our countries. While we both started with British rule, the history of slavery is much different.
In Barbados, wealthy landholders wanted obedient slaves. They used religion to teach conformity and servitude. As a result, ingenuity and open dialogue were shunned. Education provided by the church guaranteed that those who conformed were rewarded, and those who didn’t were shunned.
In comparison Canada was the place known as the last stop in the underground railroad. In 1825 with the population in Upper Canada just under 160,000, the influx of 40,000 freedom seekers who wanted to make Canada their home had a big impact.
Courageous people who came to Canada through the underground railroad influenced the way we thought about equality, freedom and minorities.
As a result, Canada has a history of protecting and defending human rights through open dialogue.
Canadian John Peters Humphrey was the principal author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and prepared the first preliminary draft of it. It established that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and that “rights are not conferred by government; they are the birthright of all people.” No matter what the country, or cultural beliefs, human rights must first.
Courageous outspoken people in Canada willing to stand up for minority groups changed not only the laws but the hearts and minds of people in communities across Canada. As a result, there are millions of LGBT citizens able to live freely and participate fully in the political, economic, and social lives of their communities.
In Barbados this is sadly not the case. Open discussion of ideas isn’t common. Instead word travels through whispers.
People are unwilling to stand up for minorities, and the LGBT community is constantly discriminated against.
But there are many Canadians living in Barbados with a humble desire to contribute to the community. Some of us descended from a courageous stock of people who fought for freedom. For us, contributing means sharing ideas and pushing for progress.
When it comes to human rights, progress starts with an honest and open discussion.
The rights of the LGBT community in Barbados are ignored by people who cite religious or cultural values to justify their discrimination. Similar to justifications given for violent practices towards women, like genital mutilation, which was believed to be sanctioned by God. Today, because individuals stood up for human rights, these practices are unacceptable.
Criminalizing the status of LGBT people, and expelling them from schools, is completely unacceptable.
The immigration policy in Barbados is responsible for limiting the islands ability to attract community builders. It was set up to attract the wealthy. Updates to the policy were designed to attract large corporations (that mostly wanted to avoid paying taxes) not entrepreneurs.
In Canada the immigration policy was designed to attract ingenuity. Our “start-up” residency program targets entrepreneurs to the country by offering residency status. This allows them to work in their business without having to get a work permit. They end up bringing all their wealth into the country. And they contribute significantly to their community.
Here in Barbados wealthy opportunists attracted by low taxes have contributed little to the island. One built a school for his children, but turned it into a business willing to discriminate against any kid who threatens their profits.
The progress here in Barbados is driven mostly by local residents and a small group of caring immigrants. But they are up against opportunists willing to use cultural intolerance as an excuse to ignore human rights and protect their profit.
This Thanksgiving I am thankful to be a Canadian living in Barbados. I am thankful for the friends I have made. They are very smart and courageous Barbadians trying to build culture and a progressive community.
In trying to explain Donald Trump’s stunning election as U.S. President, Stephen Harper – in his latest book, Right Here, Right Now: Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption – identified a divide between “those who live somewhere” and “those who live anywhere”.
The ‘”somewheres,” on the one hand, are the typically common folk in society. They fix boilers, grow food, and drive buses or taxis. They are the ‘locals’ who keep communities ticking over.
The “anywheres,” on the other hand, do not rely on any given place. They work for international businesses, or have university degrees which give them freedom to choose from a pool of nations where they can make their living. Their work, in the long run, helps to integrate nations into the growing global community.
Somewheres, according to Harper, make up the majority of the population in Western countries; but he claims the anywheres have been dominating politics – that is, until the recent shift in political trends, resulting in Brexit, Trump, Boris Johnson, Le Pen, Doug Ford, etc.
Harper believes ‘somewheres vs. anywheres’ (an idea borrowed from British journalist David Goodhart) is the new divide in present day political fault-lines; and he advocates populist conservatism (which, he confesses, is really just conservatism) as the solution.
In regards to policy, he writes:
Conservatives should remain pro-market, pro-trade, pro-globalization, and pro-immigration at heart. Going in a completely opposite direction in any of these areas would be a big mistake with serious ramifications. But being pro-market does not mean that all regulations should be dismantled or that governments should never intervene. Being pro-trade does not imply that any commercial arrangement is a good one. Being pro-globalization should not entail abdicating loyalty or responsibility to our countries. And being pro-immigration should never mean sanctioning the erasure of our borders or ignoring the interests of our citizens.*
In short, being pro-something is not an excuse for ideological tangents.”
With all respect to Harper – I genuinely think that his observations are astute – he seems, contrary to his stance of anti-ideology, attached to his conservative values.
Proposing conservatism as our solution is akin to a commercial with no relevance to the product it is supposed to advertise.
Here’s a fictional example: a Zen master speaks beautifully about what it takes to become a guru; then it is revealed that he is eating a Big Mac.
Similarly to that commercial idea (I’ll be expecting a cheque, McDonald’s!), there is real wisdom in Harper’s reflections; but conservatism, like the Big Mac, is not the answer.
The somewheres vs. anywheres situation feels, to me, like a struggle between the old world and the new world – between the comfortable nostalgia of the past and the potential grandeur of the future.
In resolving this division, it is important to first recognise that somewheres and anywheres actually need each other.
Somewheres need anywheres to provide the Western ideals, and the promise of a brighter future; anywheres need somewheres to keep everyday society going.
There is, then, importance in Harper’s beloved conservative values: in striving for the ideals of the future, we shouldn’t forget where we’ve come from.
In the same way that a flower cannot grow without its roots, our future, globalised society won’t grow without our (already established) foundations. Tearing our roots apart – no matter how tangled and distorted they have become – will create more problems than it solves.
Nonetheless, we are experiencing what is, arguably, the greatest revolution in the history of civilisation: the digital revolution.
The lifestyle – and potential – of the human race has evolved enormously in a miniscule amount of time … and the changes we have seen could yet prove to be the tip of the iceberg.
The new, seemingly infinite world of the internet, and the rapidly improving technology at our disposal, is not something that can be governed by the traditional nation states that populist conservatives are so fond of.
And while Harper acknowledges the need to be pro-globalisation, he is also dismissive of the global community’s relevance, describing it as “a mere notion.” But, similarly, all nation states also started out as abstract concepts; and in a world where the internet/social media are so relevant, the global community is more real than ever.
There must have been something in pre-historic times that forced tribes to work together; and our current situation as separate nations mirrors that in a number of ways.
These circumstances hold the potential to deliver an exciting future; but they also hold the potential of a frightening one. For that reason, it is vital that such delicate times are dealt with intelligently and carefully. There is no point of reference in history for how we might fare in this digital/technological age, so traditional conservatism alone is not the answer.
We need an eclectic, innovative approach. It’s true that we should conserve and protect our roots; but we should also actively nurture our global community, because there are too many problems that nation states cannot solve alone.
Still, these divisions stand stubbornly in the way of such sensibilities. It is becoming increasingly important for people and countries to listen to each other: but are humans capable of that? I’m still not sure.
* Right Here, Right Now: Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption (2018).
Sustainable finance is focused on harnessing the financial sector to assist and enable companies and allocate capital in a more climate aware manner to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It grew from making investments in green technology to financing companies and communities transitioning to low-carbon environments. The goal is to build resilience to the widespread impacts of climate change and prevent further exacerbation. The industry has grown significantly with international regulators beginning to add climate change to their risk assessments. Unfortunately, according to the federally appointed nonpartisan Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance, the system as a whole has been far too slow to act, resulting in a significant risk that Canadian companies and communities fall behind in making necessary adjustments transitioning to low-carbon economies. The lack of focus on climate change exacerbates risks and overlooks opportunities available to Canadian companies.
The panel calls for “a concrete vision and capital plan for Canada’s course toward a competitive low-emissions, climate-smart economy; offering Canadian businesses, financial firms and individuals the ability to connect with that vision through investment and savings; and ensuring that government and industry join forces to pursue opportunity and manage risk.”
The Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance created a roadmap for the public and private sectors by prioritizing a number of accountable steps needed to make Canada more likely to experience a smooth and successful transition to lower carbon. This involves decoupling economic growth from growth in emissions, protecting our savings and investments, and insuring that our infrastructure can handle the changes ahead – this will position Canada well in the global arena
The panel is made up of Royal Bank of Canada board director Andy Chisholm; former Bank of Canada deputy governor Tiff Macklem (Dean of Rotman School of Management); Kim Thomassin, executive vice-president at the Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec; and Barbara Zvan, chief risk and strategy officer at the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.
Some highlights from the report include: The need for a long-term vision for a climate-smart economy; the need to include climate related risk into regulation of Canada’s financial system; the need for broader awareness and education in the retail investment space; and the need to accelerate the development of a building retrofit market.
The report is thorough and offers 15 recommendations with detailed strategy and suggestions on who might lead each initiative. Below is a brief synopsis of the report, written around three “pillars” to building a stronger, sustainable vision for the country.
Map Canada’s long-term path to a low-emissions, climate-smart economy, sector by sector, with an associated capital plan.
Provide Canadians the opportunity and incentive to connect their savings to climate change objectives.
Establish a standing Canadian Sustainable Finance Action Council (SFAC) with a cross-departmental secretariat, to advise and assist the federal government in implementing the Panel’s recommendations.
Establish the Canadian Centre for Climate Information and Analytics (C3IA) as an authoritative source of climate information and decision analysis.
Define and pursue a Canadian approach to financial disclosure of climate related issues utilizing the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).
Clarify the scope of fiduciary duty in the context of climate change.
Promote a knowledgeable financial support ecosystem – a shortage of professional training, education and collaborative exploration on topics related to sustainable finance is causing a critical proficiency gap.
Embed climate-related risk into monitoring, regulation and supervision of Canada’s financial system.
Expand Canada’s green fixed income market, and set a global standard for transition-oriented financing.
Promote sustainable investment as ‘business as usual’ within Canada’s asset management community.
Define Canada’s clean technology market advantage and financing strategy.
Support Canada’s Oil and Natural Gas industry in building a low-emissions, globally competitive future.
Accelerate the development of a vibrant private building retrofit market.
Align Canada’s infrastructure strategy with its long-term sustainable growth objectives and leverage private capital in its delivery.
Engage institutional investors in the financing of Canada’s electricity grid of the future
The expert panel believes that “Canada has the financial expertise, technological capacity and resource wealth to emerge as a “global leader in climate-smart economic growth.” But they point out that it is more than just an opportunity, it is an imperative. Canada is competing with international companies in a race to supply the world with low-cost clean energy solutions and low-emissions natural resources. Through innovation and investment this can be a Canadian standard that we are all proud of. It is environmentally sensitive, socially responsible, and low cost – but in order to achieve this we must allocate capital and investments accordingly. Investors are looking to greener shores and without an accelerated push, Canada will become less and less competitive on the world stage.
Land pollution is the degradation of the soil due to human activity that causes toxins and contaminants to leach into the ground. Most of the freshwater in Barbados comes from rainfall that filters through the ground into aquifers that supply the community with drinking water.
As the Mottley government looks to overhaul their development policy it is important that they look to protect and rejuvenate the land – especially land adjacent to the water aquifers (Zone 1) – from the toxins that are leaching into the groundwater.
One of the biggest causes of land pollution is agriculture. Back in the 1960s when the Barbados GroundWater Protection Policy was created, planners thought agriculture was an ideal way to protect the soil from contamination. They didn’t know or worry about the use of highly toxic fertilizers and pesticides. With decades of fertilizer and pesticide use dangerous toxins have built up in the ground surrounding the aquifers that supply Barbados with drinking water. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has identified three chemicals used in pesticides that are conclusive causes of cancer. Read report here
Perhaps the biggest worry facing the Barbados Water Authority is that cancer causing pesticides are slowly leaching into the islands drinking water. The biggest question residents should ask is:
Why restrict land use in highly sensitive water zones areas to agriculture when the science shows that farming is one of the biggest causes of land pollution?
Another big contributor to land pollution in Barbados is vacant land. A century long habit of tossing trash out the window has caused 1 to 2 feet of garbage to collect on vacant land. And while weeds and bushes may grow over it the trash below decomposes leaching toxins into the soil. The restrictive land use policy around our aquifers has caused most of the land that isn’t farmed to be left vacant.
The truth is the Barbados Groundwater Protection Policy did not protect the land but contaminated it by limiting use in zone 1 areas to agriculture. Restricting land use also stopped pollution protection innovation and technology from developing here. Luckily other countries weren’t so foolish and green technology advanced. From natural cleaners to localized sewage treatment systems, there are many innovative ways to protect land abutting our aquifers from pollution.
The Groundwater Protection Policy is currently under review, and we are hopeful that policy makers do not ignore the science that has identified agriculture and vacant land as contributors to land pollution.
We encourage policy makers to look at innovative ways to protect our land, and take a “be green not militant” approach to land use. Much of the land around our aquifers needs rejuvenating and we should look to eco tourism, and organic farmers for help in the process.
Fertilizers, pesticides and garbage will continue to leak dangerous toxins into the ground water without a complete overhaul of the Groundwater Protection Policy. Banning the use of fertilizer and pesticide on all agricultural land in zone 1 is essential but hard to police; and vacant land will continue to collect garbage unless policy makers allow other forms of land use.
It is our suggestion that zone 1 land be opened to ecotourism initiatives that introduce and promote pollution prevention systems; and that all initiatives be required to clean up and rejuvenate the soil.
Pollution prevention systems and soil rejuvenation could easily be made part of the planning approval process for all ecotourism initiatives in zone 1 areas. It is the right, reasonable and responsible approach to tackling the growing pollution problem in Barbados.
Brexit is arguably the U.K’s biggest political event of our generation – its ripples continue to shake, and the nation is more divided over it than it has been over anything in decades.
So: is Brexit really such a big deal? This article will attempt to unpack that question.
What is Brexit?
Brexit is the motion for Britain to leave the European Union (E.U).
When the British electorate voted in the 2016 referendum, the result shocked the world of politics – not so dissimilarly to Donald Trump’s election as U.S. President.
From over 33 million voters (a 72% turnout), those who voted to ‘Leave’ made up 52% of the vote; whereas those who voted to ‘Remain’ amassed 48% of the vote.
Due to such fine margins, the referendum has not ended the debate – not by a long shot. Here in Britain it is virtually impossible to go anywhere without overhearing a conversation, or glimpsing some headline about Brexit.
And, 3 years on from the referendum, Brexit has still not been implemented.
However, there are examples of lies from both campaigns – and in this era of ‘post-truth’, where the authority of ‘facts’ is open to interpretation, it seems unlikely that Johnson will be prosecuted.
In another display of post-truth, the U.K’s results in last week’s European Parliament Elections imply different things depending on who you listen to.
Remainers argue that clearly Pro-Remain parties collectively outperformed the Pro-Leave parties clearly in favour of a so-called ‘hard Brexit’ (leaving the E.U with or without an E.U trade deal). Remainers, therefore, believe there is a mandate for a second referendum, where the electorate will have an opportunity to change its mind. (https://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2019/05/27/european-elections-remain-triumphant )
But Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party, dismissed these claims as ‘absolute tosh’. He, along with the other ‘Leavers’, point out that 75% of activists in the Conservative Party(currently in government) are Pro-Leave, and taking their numbers into account proves that the appetite for Brexit still exists.
Judging the true message of these results is challenging; but the country is certainly still divided.
It seems likely, then, that Brexit will finally go ahead on the 31st October – with or without a deal.
Will the U.K be better off?
It’s hard to say for sure whether or not the U.K will be better off.
‘Euroscepticism’ (anti-E.U feeling) is not only present in the U.K – it is spread all across Europe.
Euroscepticism also transcends the traditional politics of ‘left and right’ – the pro-Leave Brexit Party, as well as the pro-Remain Change UK, are made up of former supporters and members from both the Conservative and Labour parties.
Here are some basic arguments to LEAVE:
The E.U is undemocratic and adds a needless layer of bureaucracy.
Freedom of movement encourages immigration, adding strains to services like the NHS.
It has treated member states badly when in economic crisis (particularly Greece).
Industries, including the fishing industry, have suffered.
Calls for a ‘United States of Europe’ and a European army possess a dystopian flavour.
And here are some basic arguments to REMAIN:
The E.U has succeeded in keeping peace between European countries.
Global issues can’t be tackled without cooperative organisations such as the E.U.
The E.U provides checks and balances, preventing governments from getting too powerful.
Some supporters actually prefer E.U politics to their own national politics.
Freedom of movement is a two-ended stick, providing opportunity and improving economy.
There are counterarguments to the arguments from both sides of the debate, and it seems unlikely that either side will convince their opposition any time soon.
Nobody truly knows if the U.K will be better off or not.
So what’s the big deal?
From a democratic standpoint the referendum has been won, so Brexit simply must go ahead.
But the debate won’t go away.
Brexit is a topic which people have identified with far more than they ever identified with the traditional ‘left vs. right’ politics – and when Brexit is finally delivered, it is likely that the debate will still be relevant.
And that’s the big deal. Brexit engages people.
It may seem obvious that the U.K has more pressing concerns than E.U membership – like poverty, the environment, and its own government’s flaws (which will still exist after Brexit).
Still – for better or worse – that will all have to wait.
It is my mission to create a transformation of the whole person; physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually” – Beth Shaw
As one of the utmost leading experts in “mind, body, and fitness,” Beth Shaw is recognized as an industry pioneer drawing from years of experience and expertise in nutrition, exercise, yoga, and holistic health. For over 20 years, Shaw has committed to helping others achieve heightened mind-body health through the creation and growth of YogaFit.
Beth Shaw is a creative visionary who has helped revolutionize the fitness industry and bring yoga into the mainstream.
As the founder and CEO of YogaFit, she has brought transformation to the lives of teachers, students, and enthusiasts around the globe.
YogaFit, the workout, is a hybrid of yoga, stretching and fitness exercises that blends Eastern tradition with Western fitness science. YogaFit, the company, is a hybrid of instruction, innovation, and inspiration. YogaFit began as an instructor-training program. When Beth started teaching yoga in upscale, Southern California fitness clubs, she found the traditional methods didn’t address the variety of body types, skill levels, and personalities she encountered in her classes. In 1994 Shaw developed her user-friendly brand of yoga, following the traditional group exercise model of warm-up, work and cool down. The concept caught on, the demand grew, and in 1997, YogaFit presented its’ first Teacher Training seminar in North Dakota. Twenty-five aspiring yoga instructors in Fargo gave birth to a program that has since trained 250,000 people worldwide.
But what makes YogaFit great? Every YogaFit instructor is required to complete community service as part of their certification, YogaFit has given over three million hours to charity and service projects.
YogaFit is a company on a mission.
Since 1997, YogaFit instructors have given over a million hours to community service projects.
The company asks every person enrolled in its training program to complete 8 hours of community service or charity work. Together, they’ve brought yoga to at-risk youth, the elderly, disabled adults and children, stressed out employees, teenage mothers, churches, synagogues, and prisons.
YogaFit offers seminars, educational material and training manuals for fitness professionals and a series of creative workout videos, yoga apparel, and products. From YogaFit Basics to Power YogaFit; from YogaButt to YogaFit for Seniors, Shaw has proven that yoga is for any and everybody.
Shaw is also one of the founders behind Visionary Women in Fitness, a non-profit organization to educate and empower young women. Partnering with Vanderbilt University’s Girl Force, Visionary Women in Fitness aims to change the way girls view beauty and teach them that true worth is determined by ones’ self. YogaFit’s extensive network of instructors will bring this message of empowerment to junior highs and high schools across the country. But there is more! Beth is also the author of three best-selling books, her premier book, YogaFit (Human Kinetics) has sold over 100,000 units worldwide. YOGALEAN a lifestyle book was released in 2014, and The YogaFit Athlete was released by Random House in 2016. Beth is working on her fourth book – Healing Trauma with Yoga look for it in October 2019.
Since sailing there, on a homemade, cement boat, 30 years ago, I’ve been in love with The Kingdom of Tonga.
I was living in Sydney, Australia, in 1989, working for a company that built sets and exhibitions, for Home Shows, Air Shows, etc.. One of my co-workers, a sparky Tasmanian, named Mick Purcell, had built his own sailboat, and was planning on taking it to New Zealand, with his wife and young daughter. It sounded great, so I invited myself along.
At the time, I shared a small apartment (flat), with other travellers. Mick’s boat was moored near our place. I had an old, crappy car, and was happy to drive him to and from work. He was a character, like no one I’d met.
Mick had grown up in a Hobart orphanage and the priests had taught him to sail and weld; useful skills. When he was old enough, to leave the orphanage, Mick took a job as a welder, bought a house, and spent 12 years making a sailboat, in his Hobart backyard. Mick welded the frame and made the shell out of ferrocement.
After a dozen years of work, his boat was ready, for water. While showing me the newspaper clippings, Mick explained how the city of Hobart lent him a crane and, with great fanfare, lifted the craft from his backyard and dropped it into the bay.
It didn’t sink.
“Everybody stopped laughing,” he said.
Mick named his sailboat The Illusion. Standing on the deck of his improbable, homemade, cement boat, he said, “It’s just an illusion, mate.”
For two more years, Mick was only able to motor around Tasmania, because he couldn’t, yet, afford masts and sails. Eventually, The Illusion was fully outfitted and ready for the ocean. Mick, his wife, Teresa, and daughter, Nakita, sailed north from Hobart to Sydney through “the roaring forties.”
Mick docked The Illusion in Sydney and got a job, at the company, where I was working. He was saving money and preparing for a trip to New Zealand. While we carpooled, Mick told me his of plan to sail across the Bering Strait, with his family. My Australian visa was expiring, and I was flying to New Zealand, anyway, so I inquired about sailing, instead.
The Illusion was a primitive craft, without satellite navigation or autopilot, and it required someone at the helm, at all times. Mick was happy to have help. I told my flatmates of my impending seaventure. Some were interested and asked if they could join.
When we set off for New Zealand, there were nine aboard, from six different countries.
We cleared customs in Sydney, with the agents coming on board to stamp passports, etc. As The Illusion sailed under the bridge, past the opera house, out of Sydney, and into the open ocean, I tingled.
It took us 13 days to hit New Zealand. En route we saw birds, fish, whales, dolphins, a shark, and fishing boats. We dove in, a few times.
Mick was teaching himself how to navigate, on the passage. For much of the trip, we were “dead reckoning,” our location. To our great relief and excitement, we hit the north west coast of NZ, exactly, where Mick had predicted.
We sailed around the northern tip of New Zealand’s North Island and into The Bay of Islands, where we cleared customs.
Travellers, generally, like to read and drink. For good reasons, Mick had forbidden us from bringing alcohol, on his boat, so, after a stretch of sobriety, it was nice to hit the local, and celebrate. We had sea legs on our way to the pub and lubricated sea legs on the way back.
Originally, the plan was to split up, in New Zealand, with Mick and his family sailing back to Australia. I was going to tour NZ, before flying to Hawaii. However, Mick’s navigation was spot on, and the trip was so great, Mick, his family, and me decided to keep going.
We looked at a map and saw The Kingdom of Tonga, a tiny collection of islands, in the south pacific ocean, was about 1000 miles north of New Zealand; roughly the same distance we’d travelled across the Bering Strait.
In an instant, it was settled, we were going to Tonga. I’d never heard of The Kingdom of Tonga, before, but I was in love.
From The Bay of Islands, we sailed south to Auckland; New Zealand’s biggest city, where Mick moored The Illusion. We split up for 3 months. He went looking for work and I went looking for shenanigans, kiwi style.
I hitchhiked around NZ and stayed, on a sheep farm, before returning to Auckland, and moving back onto The Illusion. We put notices up at a hostel, indicating we were looking for adventurous travellers to join us, on a trip to Tonga.
Fortunately, we got great, young people from England, USA, and Sweden to come aboard. Eager, anxious, and excited, with a crew of eight, we set sail for The Kingdom of Tonga, on Mick’s homemade, cement boat.
The Kermadec Islands, tiny dots, in The Pacific ocean, are halfway to Tonga. The largest, Raoul, is the only inhabited island of the Kermadecs. Decades ago, the New Zealand government established a weather center and research facility on Raoul, and a small number of Kiwis (New Zealanders) spend a year there, working; rotating in and out, annually.
The workers are dropped off, on Raoul, with everything needed, for a year. The only time they are visited is for emergencies, or when boats stop by, which we did.
The year we visited, there were 8 New Zealanders, living on Raoul. We were their first guests. The Kiwis made beer, on the island, and they were happy to have several young travellers stop, visit, and sample their wares. Our night on Raoul Island was great fun.
The next morning, we set sail, for Tonga. About week later, we arrived in the kingdom. Tonga consists of 169 islands; 37 of which are inhabited. We sailed to the largest, most populated island, Tongatapu, and cleared customs and immigration, in Nuku’alofa, the Tongan capital.
Tonga was just how I’d imagimed; beautiful, simple, and fascinating. I tried to learn a few words, everywhere I went. “Hello” in Tongan is “Malo e lelei” (ma-low le lay). I thought it was long, so abbreviated it to “malo,” which, I discovered, means “thank you.”
A foolish tourist, indeed, I spent my first hours in Tonga, (a.k.a.“The Friendly Islands,”) saying, “Thank you, thank you,” to locals saying hi.
When we were there, the population was about 90 000 people, with about 60 000 on Tongatapu. The country is a supreme monarch and the King owns everything. Royal Beer was a favourite regal enterprise.
There were many, other, great things about Tonga. Pigs, chickens, and other animals roamed freely. Criminals were put on islands of isolation. The cars in Tonga kept the license plates of their previous home. There were vehicles from Australia, New Zealand, and America, with left and right hand drives, zooming all over.
An unexpected hazard was falling coconuts. I was told by a local, getting hit by the dropping fruit was the number one reason for hospital visits, in Tonga.
Watching a Tongan scale a coconut tree, machete in mouth, was a spectacle to behold. Using hands and barefeet, Tongans run up trees, with ease, and hack down food.
Every place I’ve visited has an inebriant. In Tonga, they enjoyed kava. The root of the kava plant is dried and crushed into a powder, mixed with water, and drank.
We were invited to a kava party. We sat in a circle and a cloth sack was filled with powdered kava. The sack was immersed in water, in an inverted tortoise shell, and squeezed. A kava drink has sedative and euphoric properties.
The master of ceremonies filled two coconut shells, with the kava drink, and they were passed, from person to person, using two hands, around the circle to the furthest two people. They drank the kava and the cups were passed back to the MC. Again, everyone handled the drinking vessels. The MC refilled the coconut cups and they were passed along, to the next furthest people. This process continued until everybody had had a coconut cup of kava.
The ritual was repeated for the entire, great evening.
The Illusion was anchored near an American couple, who had also sailed to the Kingdom. He was a doctor, and, while in Tonga, served the king. One day, sitting on his boat, he pointed to an airplane circling overhead. The doctor explained the king was trying to lose weight and was riding his bike on the country’s only runway, while bodyguards ran beside him.
The king’s weight loss is legendary.
Tongans are big, strong, and tough. The rough and tumble way Tongan children played was shocking, at first, but affirming, soon, thereafter. I loved it. “That’s how kids should play,” I thought.
(I’ve often wondered, if bubble wrapped children and helicopter parents have inflicted on the kingdom.)
God, I hope not.
Like all Polynesian cultures, Tongans love rugby. We went to a game. Rugby has 30 players, on the pitch; 15 per side. In Tonga, I estimated, 10 players had cleats, 10 wore running shoes, and 10 played in bare feet. The ferocity of the match was remarkable.
Tongans hit hard, bro.
We left Tongatapu and were sailing through uninhabited islands. As night fell, we saw a few lights, on a small island. We decided to drop anchor and check it out, the next day.
April 28, 1989, two hundred years, to the day, of the mutiny on The Bounty, the most famous mutiny, ever. Unbeknownst to us, the historic event occurred, roughly, where we had dropped anchor.
Early morning, three of us got in the small skiff and were paddling to shore. Suddenly, the beach filled with Tongans. Only 600 people lived on Nomuka, and many of them were on the beach, staring and chattering, with a tangible excitement.
“What is going on?” we wondered.
When we hit the shore, an American emerged, from the crowd, and introduced himself: Brian from The Peace Corps. “Are you from The Bounty,” he asked.
We had no idea what he was talking about. Brian had been the only non-Tongan, on Nomuka, for several months. He spoke the language and knew Tonga, well. He explained the significance of the date and our location. “The Bounty is supposed to come here, today,” he explained.
“The Bounty” he was talking about was a direct replica of the original vessel, which had been built for the movie, “The Mutiny on The Bounty,” with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins. On cue, the magnificent ship came around the corner and into view.
The Bounty stopped within 100 meters of The Illusion and dropped anchor.
On board were descendents of Fletcher Christian, the head mutineer, and Captain Bligh. We went aboard The Bounty and got a tour of the ship and a lesson in history. Some of Fletcher Christian’s descendants, whom we met, lived on Norfolk Island.
The stories of Bligh, Christian, The Bounty, the crew, and Tahitians, before, during, and since the mutiny, are, entirely, fascinating; well worth two centuries of retelling.
Before we knew it, our time in Tonga was up. I went to Fuji, which I found busy, compared to Tonga. Then, flew to Hawaii, which was a rat race.
I thought that was the end of me and Tonga, but Tonga was wasn’t finished with me.
After two years of travelling, I had long hair, tattered clothes, and a beat up backpack. The American customs agent, in Honolulu, took an instant dislike to me. He asked me where I had been and how I afforded to be gone from Canada for so long. I told him, I had working holiday visas for England and Australia, to no avail.
“I think you want to work here,” he said, (accurately.) I had long dreamed of visiting Hawaii and, indeed, planned to find work, so I could stay, a while. The grumpy customs agent sent me to a special room, for the unsavory, where I waited and entertained worst case scenarios.
Eventually, a young Polynesian man came in. “He’s Tongan,” I said to myself, excitedly, but kept quiet. He was pleasant, but cool, as he rifled through my backpack. He asked for my wallet and started going through it. He pulled out a picture of my niece, Jessica, who was about three. “Who’s this,” he asked and I explained.
Then, divine Tongan intervention struck, again. The agent pulled out a business card and studied it, intensely. He held it to me, “Do you know this guy?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, “I was just in Tonga and bought jewellery from him.” The card belonged to Mickey Guttenbeil, who sold beautiful, handcrafted Tongan jewelry. I had purchased several pieces and he had given me his card.
The immigration officer said, “Holy s#@, man, he’s my cousin.”
I’ve been carrying Mickey’s card, something of a St. Christopher medallion, for so long I had to laminate it. The bottom said, (some numbers,) Nuku’alofa, Tonga Island, South Pacific. Greatest address, ever?
Bang. Everything changed. “I thought you were Tongan,” I said, “but didn’t want to kiss your ass.” It turns out, his family had emigrated to the US when he was 14 and he hadn’t been back to Tonga, since. “You should go,” I said. “It’s amazing. I loved it.”
Suddenly, we no longer a dodgy traveller and a scrutinising customs agent. We were two people, talking, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. He repacked my backpack, apologized, stamped my passport, shook my hand, and said, “Welcome to America.” The land of the free.
I said, “Malo.”
“’Oku talitali lelei koe,” he said.
I found work in Hawaii, on a small fishing boat, the owner of which was Alaskan. After a month, he asked me and another traveller if we wanted to help him motor his craft to Alaska, and look for work cleaning up the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Sail a small boat, across miles of open ocean, to a mysterious destination, where untold adventures await?
Leanne Bremner’s guide dog, Eva, is so popular at CIBC that she occasionally offers cuddle time with Eva as a prize to encourage colleagues to donate to the bank’s supported charities. She also offers team members the opportunity for special cuddle sessions with Eva for their birthdays. These tactics not only help to strengthen team spirit, but they also keep co-workers from distracting Eva when she is in harness and working to help Leanne navigate CIBC’s corporate offices.
Leanne is a corporate communications professional at CIBC. Born with a degenerative eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa, she gradually lost her vision in her late teens-early 20s. Never letting her visual impairment get in the way of her goals, Leanne has built a fulfilling career during her 17 years with the bank, and she credits much of her success to her partnership with Eva and her previous guide dogs.
Eva does much more than serve as a welcome addition to the workplace. Leanne says she couldn’t get to and from the office without her. She and Eva walk to the subway from her home and then travel into downtown Toronto, where they often navigate crowds of commuters, construction, and other challenges like snow banks during the winter months.
“There are often huge obstacles for a guide dog in navigating the streets of Toronto, such as crowds at intersections and traffic blocking the access to streets and sidewalks,” said Leanne. “Commuting can be a challenge here, but Eva is a trooper in overcoming challenges.”
Leanne reports that Eva is a stellar guide, but has equal energy when she is out of harness and off-duty, calling her the most playful dog she’s ever known. Eva is her fifth guide dog—she received her first guide dog in 1995.
Leanne and Eva were paired through Guide Dogs for the Blind International, a registered charity in Canada that helps provide individuals who are blind or visually impaired with highly qualified guide dogs free of charge. Guide Dogs’ sister organization, Guide Dogs for the Blind, is headquartered in California.
Leanne now serves on the board for Guide Dogs for the Blind after serving on the board for the Alumni Association for six years .
In addition to supporting Leanne’s career, Eva also plays a big role in her personal life. She is married and has a 10-year-old daughter. As a busy working mom, she relies on Eva to help the family maintain a full schedule, often covering uncharted locations around the city’s diverse neighbourhoods.
“People in Toronto are pretty good
about spotting Eva’s harness and asking whether or not they can pet her,” said Leanne. “But surprisingly, it’s often the kids
educating their parents about not petting a guide dog while she’s working.”
Leanne is a seasoned traveler, having visited 14 countries on five continents. As a trusted travel companion, Eva remains calm and focused when negotiating airports and boarding flights.
There is very little that Leanne can’t do, which is a point that she’d like to educate the general public about. “Blind people are just people who happen to be blind,” she said. “Guide dogs help us to be independent and contribute to society, just like everybody else, so my hope is that the general public would set aside past assumptions about our capabilities.”
Behind someone’s success there is always a vision. When that vision is connected to a personal experience, it makes its outcome all the more fulfilling and empowering. To use the words of Jonathan Swift, “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” I had the pleasure to talk to a modern local visionary, Kyla Fox, founder of The Kyla Fox Centre, an outpatient Eating Disorder Recovery Centre and Women’s Wellness Centre in Toronto.
A social worker by background and an eating disorder survivor, Kyla has
dedicated most of her life “helping people to live full and honest lives,
without harm, and to raise awareness of eating disorders and issues surrounding
women’s health.” In her late teens-early 20s, Kyla suffered with an eating
disorder so acute that it put her life at risk.
Opened in 2012, the Centre is a space where people can access help with the support of a multidisciplinary team, placing emphasis on individualized treatment for each client. After having been in practice for 10 years, Kyla felt “there was a massive gap in the services for those affected by eating disorders in a comprehensive way”, and so she created The Kyla Fox Centre. And because women who don’t identify as having eating disorders/disordered eating were wanting to access care at the Centre, Kyla launched, in 2018, the Women’s Wellness Program — a space for women and those who identify as women, “to receive care, support, and treatment in a way that will support and improve their lives.”
Contrary to popular belief, eating disorders are not a young white rich
girl’s disease. Although eating disorders do not discriminate and cross over
every race, gender, and every socio-economic status, they are not equally
distributed amongst genders as disproportionately more women than men are
As an individualized treatment centre, clients are provided with supports and services that meet their unique needs. Kyla knows that eating disorders are not exclusively about food or the body. Moreover, “what happens with food and the body is a manifestation of much deeper things that are going on with a person. The ability to be well in life is about confronting those things.” Therefore, using individual, family, couple, and/or group therapy in order to get to the root causes of the harm —combined with food and body work—is how treatment at the Centre is designed. Nutritionally speaking, the work is to break down the rules and rituals that those suffering present with. As the approach is “unconventional”, because no two people have the same needs, incorporation of meal support, meal prep, cooking, food outings, and groceries shopping can be part of that work. In terms of the body and reconnecting to it, clients may incorporate naturopathic medicine, yoga, meditation, reiki, acupuncture, mindfulness, meditation, or a combination of all of the above. Art therapy, creative and expressive therapies are also in place to serve the clients’ needs.
“The success rate is very high,” Kyla states, “partly because our clients
seek us out and work with us generally for the long haul. Typically, treatment
lasts six to 12 months.”
In a world where we are bombarded with images and messages, I wonder how
much social media platforms, such as Instagram, and more specifically
pro-ana sites contribute to the rise of eating disorders amongst people.
As Kyla states, “If it was as simple to develop an eating disorder by
looking at images on Instagram, then every single person would have one. It’s
not contagious. If it affects us, it’s because something in our lives makes us
vulnerable and if it doesn’t, it’s because we have other protective factors in
Kyla now deeply appreciates her body and “all it has done to forgive her, and join with her.” Giving birth to her two daughters has been “the most miraculous part of living well and living free.” As a mother, she is certain that her history will not compromise her daughters’ wellbeing because she has confronted her demons before embarking on such an endeavour.
Kyla has been an avid yogi for over 20 years. She also teaches it as a hobby at a yoga studio. It was introduced to her when she was acutely ill and since then it’s been a spiritual practice that makes her stay connected to herself. She also loves being outdoors in nature, cooking, and being in the company of “people who lift me up” and inspire her to grow and evolve.
Kyla is a public speaker, writer, and advocate for eating disorder awareness, mental health, and women’s wellness.