A third-culture kid (TCK / 3CK) or trans-culture kid is "someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more cultures other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture."


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Saint John... Let’s Have Some Fundy!

Saint John is the most populous city in the province of New Brunswick and it is also the place where my father spent his last years as a teenager in the Maritimes before coming to Ontario. When we arrived to this pretty little city, we had the unique opportunity to observe the Reversing Falls for a brief moment. To the untrained eye, it sure doesn’t look like much compared to Niagara Falls or Iguaçú. I suppose the gigantic pulp and paper mill sitting straight across from where I was standing, getting in the way of any natural beauty didn’t do much for me. There is also an unusual – to the untrained nose, of course - urine-like stench that spews out through its smoke stacks.  The magic is all in the tide – or as they call it in some places, “the tuh-ide.”

The tide you say? Yes, my trout! The Bay of Fundy is not only known as one of the most fun bays in Canada, but for its amazing tidal changes between the highs and lows. The difference is record breaking, but it seems no one is keeping score on this one. It’s nature’s most impressive rollercoaster ride (check out the video up above). Apparently, should you venture along the coastline during the low tide, once the shift to high tide comes into high gear, not even Poseidon himself would stand a chance at outrunning the awesome forces of nature. Then again, why would the Greek God of the Seas be out for a stroll on land? Maybe he thought he had become a merman. Perhaps the only one able to accomplish such as feat is the one and only Chuck Norris.  Did you know that he is so tough, he uses Tabasco sauce for eye drops? – this is based on fact, not fiction, ladies and gentlemen, I am not making any of this up. He could roundhouse kick the ocean back to low tide.

Coming back to the tide, the changes that occur in the ocean play a role on the Saint John River as well. The rapids flow one way during the low tide and then the other way during high tide, hence its name, the Reversing Falls. Another interesting fact for the Myth Busters! You can only truly take in the magnitude of this magical circle of life that moves us all by spending a full day in the city. Otherwise, you just think that it’s a curious name from the local language. It is pretty fantastic and is one of the more visited sites in the city. My father used to walk through that part of town in 10 feet of snow, barefoot and with a crispy 50 below temperature on a daily basis to get from home to school and back. People were so much tougher back then… and so was the weather!

Saint John is also home to one of our national treasures: the Moosehead brewery. Access to high quality, premium beer, is one of the pillars Canada was founded on. We are extremely tolerant and accepting here, but do not knock our holy water. If you do walk down that dark road while on Canadian soil, you’ll soon discover we are not as peaceful and polite as you would think. The brewery is only a stone throw away from the river and the pulp and paper mill. Maybe the mix of the two give that strange brew a unique refreshing taste. We should ask the Moose himself. Another local attraction in the old hood adding to our national pride is the Carleton Martello Tower. This is was a strategic defensive fortification used in the war of 1812 to keep the Americans at bay. Thank you Martello for your great towers!

Mom posing with the founder of Moosehead

New Brunswick is by far one of my favourite provinces in Canada – shame it is so far away from where I live – and the people are extremely friendly. It really adds to the experience. I made my way out of Saint John the following morning, aboard a now defunct ferry service that connected this part of the world to the southern tip of Nova Scotia. Now, if you need to make that trip across, the only option is by land (which makes for a really lengthy road trip) or hopping aboard the metal condor (internal air travel is always quite pricey). I was excited to finally set foot in a matter of hours on the newer Scotland, the province that welcomed my father and his band of merry Bickfords from the United Kingdom. To Digby and beyond!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Wagons East

This weekend, I am hitting the rewind button, taking us back to the summer of 2005 – if you are interested in further time travel experiences, send me an e-mail and we’ll talk. The Bickfords set their sights on the mighty Maritimes for a memorable family vacation, suggested by our newest family member at the time, my sister-in-law, Melissa. The Atlantic is a part of this great country that has holds a special place in my father’s memories and is truly an incredibly friendly place. I love Maritimers. My father spent most of his youth in various remote settlements throughout Nova Scotia and New Brunswick when his family immigrated from the United Kingdom. These rural settlements may not have evolved much since his childhood, much like Geneva, according to Rousseau.

Edmunston, New Brunswick on a magical summer night

My Dad wanted to take this trip since his return to Canada in 2001, but for various reasons, it had not come through. He managed to gather precious years of strategic intel and even designed a mock itinerary. In 2002, Brian got married, which led to a more Ontario-focussed summer delightfully deviating him from his objective. After all, Niagara-On-The-Lake is quite a colourful place to spend some quality summertime and I actually got my first ever sister at the tender age of 21. The following year, he gave us a real scare with a serious heart attack on his way home from work. His prolonged stay in our healthcare facilities coincided with the infamous SARS epidemic that hit Ontario pretty hard, especially our tourism industry. Every single visit to the Ottawa General Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit included a routine interview, screening visitors through a series of questions gauging potential exposure to the virus. I was asked every day for updated travels to Asia – I never told them that I went to China overnight and came back just to spread the virus – and regarding obscene consumption of Imperial Pork or General Tao Chicken. It was nerve-racking to observe so much prejudice on Chinese Buffets, the silent heroes of university students and their budgets.

In July 2005, the Ottawa delegation of Bickfords hit the road due East, making a few pit stops on our way to Ingomar, Nova Scotia’s wildest tourist attraction. For those who are not familiar with this part of the mapa mundi, you can do a quick Google Map query for McNutts Island, home of the Sea Loins – much like regular sea lions, but these are the Nova Scotia kind. The first of these breaks included a brief overnight stay in beautiful Edmunston, an entirely bilingual city on the New Brunswick panhandle. They spoke both official languages simultaneously which can be quite challenging for most of us but very patriotic nonetheless. We tried one of the local delicacies in our hotel restaurant which is a thin buckwheat pancake called “ploy” and must be injested (at your own risk) with a generous cover of “creton”. Creton is a meat spread blending onions, spices and pork butt – sounds yummy, doesn’t it? Pork butt is not the first thing that comes to mind especially when you lack a strong agricultural or butcher background – like most of us out there. It is a specific cut of pork but I thought originally that they were goat brains. Well, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, as THEY say. All kidding aside, it is worth a try although it is not exactly a low-cal meal.

The following day, we enjoyed a delicious bag lunch in the city of Fredericton, the provincial capital. The drive down is spectacular, as the road hugs the Saint John River and provides a wonderful waterfront in the heart of the city. I had never been there before and I was blown away by the beauty of the downtown. Don’t walk more than five blocks or you’ll be lost in the suburbs. The old buildings are incredibly well preserved, surrounded by sculpted parks and colourful summer gardens, really adding a touch of elegance to all the cultural heritage. Even the tourist office has an official armed Red Coat guard – I certainly don’t envy wearing a thick wool military uniform in thirty degree weather – to thwart any serious terrorist attack. The settlement was first established by the French during the colonial era but there is much more of a reflection of British history as control of the town changed into the Empire’s hands. The population is slightly on the older side of the age scale yet there is some presence of youth thanks to the University of New Brunswick campus, one of our finest post-secondary institutions in the area.

Fredericton's picturesque downtown

On the drive down to Saint John, New Brunswick – not to be mistaken for Saint John’s, Newfoundland, St. Jean, Quebec or San Juan, Puerto Rico – I had a chance to see the longest covered bridge in North America, perhaps even in the world, in Hartland. Many nations have built bridges spanning several kilometres (a few less miles) but nobody builds covered bridges like Canadians do. We are the envy of the world. If you need a covered bridge, we will be happy to share our expertise. After all, it is our gift to the world. Next time you walk across a bridge, struggling against the wind and precipitation that seems to be falling horizontally rather than vertically, you will think of us and our humane constructions. Maybe I am reaching too far – or maybe not – but maybe that is why we are one of the best countries to live in on our planet. Never underestimate the power of a bridge.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bob Marley – The Developing World’s Superstar

Most of us outside the reggae culture have the tendency to make negative associations in regards to the followers of the natural mystic and the Rastafarian movement (the Rastas are synonymous to the hypnotic positive vibrations) drawing our conclusions from stereotypes – ‘dem put in place by crazy baldheads, mon! This Afro-centric spiritual movement came into being in the 1930s Caribbean, borrowing core beliefs from Christianity and elements of a troubled Atlantic slave trade history. Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia is considered the reincarnation of Jesus and the saviour that will return black people to the Promised Land.

Bob Marley with the universal colours of Ras Tafari

During my convalescence, I became addicted to a book my father gave me called, “Bob Marley: The Stories Behind Every Song,” by Maureen Sheridan. This reggae pioneer is undoubtedly the most recognized ambassador of this religious and spiritual movement. This religion was his muse and he wanted to spread the word throughout the globe. The book provides a truly inspiring picture of this humble country boy and his humble journey that led to international stardom. In his lifetime, he became one of the most successful artists - and to many, a world hero - hailing from the developing world. Not even Ricky Martin has managed to match Jamaica’s most famous son’s prowess. The local street culture and vibes dominating every day life in Trench Town, one of the toughest ghettos in Jam-rock in his time also is instrumental in his music. He actually began his musical career first as a solo artist while living in the slums, and afterwards befriended Neville O’Riley Livingston – better known as “Bunny Wailer” - and Peter Tosh, eventually giving birth to the Wailers, a true blessing that launched reggae music to an international audience hungry for a new sound.

The beauty of the instrumental doctrine adopted in most melodies is the simplicity. In the words of the reggae man himself: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” His powerful poetic lyrics did just that job without the need to shout. Much of his material originated from a tough childhood where he faced rejection from his white father, watching people starve while they earned relatively nothing for a day’s work, his comfort in the love of Jah and his dissatisfaction with a system that disenfranchised much of his brethren. When his music hits you that is what you are feeling. His songs were loaded with messages of hope that captivated huge crowds from Kingston to Sydney. Everyone wanted to see the show and those who had not, said they did. Leading entertainment personalities such as Stevie Wonder and Mick Jagger were also drawn to his music, but he remained a down-to-Earth dreadlock Rasta, looking to help each and every person who came to see him on his beloved island – even after an attempt on his life that forced him into exile. He promoted respect for one another, one love one heart, - meaning we are all part of a global family regardless of our skin colour, belief and social status – and standing up for our rights, which all continue to resonate today. 

Bob’s magic was his incredible ability to reach out to people – although he was frustrated to have had little effect on African-Americans for reasons beyond his understanding. Concerts in Milan, Tokyo and other cities where English was not widely spoken, everyone in attendance was always able to sing along to the Wailers, skankin’ to the lively beat. The music enters through the ears and flows into the veins and you enter the universal realm of rhythm and global dance of peace. In Sheridan’s book, she mentiones that Marley was under CIA surveillance due to a seemingly “communist” belief system and his ability in influencing and drawing large crowds. Among the most important gatherings in his performance history and in duty to his people, was the Smile Jamaica concert in Kingston, aimed at uniting warring political factions. Right wing and left-wing gangs were engaged in shootouts, leaving significant casualties, including women and children caught in the crossfire and the split between haves and have-nots continued to grow at an alarming pace. Hostilities ceased temporarily, but perhaps primarily because of a tainted past, Jamaica has been unable to pull out of a violent and poverty stricken reality, often teetering on the brink of failure as a nation-state.

The legacy continues

Bob Marley’s legacy continues after his tragic passing at only 36 years old because of a widespread, untreatable cancer. Pick up the book if you come across it and you will not regret it. His music has inspired many musical acts, including a massive boom in countries where reggae is hardly part of history such as Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Venezuela, just to mention a few. His success was not only fueled by his love of music and natural gift to connecting with a diverse audience, but because of his devotion to his craft. His peers described him as a man on a mission. He was constantly plucking at his guitar strings, writing lyrics and having jam sessions lasting several hours without a break. His children still harbour certain resentment towards their rock star parents’ lifestyle, growing up neglected (their mother was part of Marley I-Threes chorus) and perhaps it was a sacrifice for a short lifetime of achievement.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Love and Marriage (Sinatra Is Not Here)

I celebrated my emancipation from two and a half months of a left foot wrapped up in various different casts designed by Ontario’s finest, attending a wedding last weekend. Mouki was my first friend in my University of Ottawa days and quickly became one of my best friends. The bountiful universe always finds a way of providing. I had the sincere pleasure of meeting his fiancée over two years ago - his match made in heaven – one fine Canada Day as my lovely wife and I fled Toronto’s G-20 week’s high-octane activities. It was truly a shame my cameo appearance on the big day was rather brief due to my convalescence, an air boot and my two favourite crutches following me around since June 24, 2012, restricting my movement, but I was honoured to witness the blessed union of two gentle and wonderful souls.

Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Abdilahi

The joyous ceremony was held in a peaceful garden filled with their family and friends, under a cozy late summer sun, the afternoon of September 1, 2012. The handsome groom and beautiful bride stood with that spark in their eyes before their guests supporting their commitment through their attendance. It is impossible to detach yourself from your own experience having taken the plunge, which sets in motion a cascade of flashbacks reminding you of your own moment standing at the altar. You can never forget that look in your better half’s gaze confirming that the future is and will be amazing. Just the thought of sharing an entire life with that person in front of you is the most comforting feeling ever. The most concise and accurate definition of this commitment, whether it be religious, civil or any other form of permanent union, could not have been better defined than what the justice of the peace leading the proceedings said in just four words: love, faith, trust and respect.

Virgil coined the timeless expression, “Love conquers all.” It is the foundation for successful relationships enabling a couple to transcend negatives that are materialised through individual expectations. My sister-in-law once mentioned, “The key to marriage is to never stop dating” and her system is still working after a decade of tying the knot. This is one of my favourite quotes on maintaining a healthy and loving relationship with your partner. The love that brings two people together is the purest feeling that comes about naturally and can hardly be expressed into words. You just know it is there. Expectations you place on each other and others, even on those outside of your holy union, can lead knock you off your path and descend into self-destruction. What we have in common as human beings is that we are not in control of entirely everything and the sooner we can realize this, we can live a fuller life. We have a restricted strangle hold on some situations while we attempt to forward our agendas yet we cannot fully materialise many desires that are interdependent on external circumstances, such as the free will of other people. True love has no expectations, except for love itself.

My father-in-law shared his key advice on preserving a constructive marriage on the day of my wedding, singling out that the most important is to give. I absolutely concur with him and I take this concept further, recommending that the best gift to one another aside from keeping the love going is faith, trust and respect. Without the heart feeling what it feels naturally, these three cannot coexist. Faith is a strong belief in your partner and their belief system, based on a spiritual apprehension rather than requiring material proof. Some find it impossible to believe in anything that is not tangible. Trust can be defined as essentially believing in the reliability of another person knowing that what he or she is doing is for the best of “us,” relieving the old guard of what is “mine” and what is “yours.” Last but not least, respect is a feeling of deep admiration for someone elicited by the abilities, qualities or achievements as they face success and hardships for the sake of the common relationship. These four fully nurtured and balanced can guide you to glory through the toughest of circumstances.

The wedding bands, the promise of a union

The wedding band you wear once the relationship is officially recognized symbolizes these four ingredients perfectly. The ring has neither beginning nor end, entailing that the union is eternal, as is your commitment to honouring these principles for as long as you both shall live. “Till death do you part,” as is customarily expressed in these ceremonies. There are plenty of ups and downs and, at any given moment, these highs or lows can appear endless. Your belief in each other is essential. Remember all the small things, as eventually these accumulate into a heavy positive when weighed on a balance, proving Virgil’s point. This is the light at the end of the tunnel on the road to overcome the tragic, make you stronger and fully enjoy the good times as a true gift from an abundant universe together. If you want something you have to work hard for it and the reward is a long, happy life. Remember, it is no longer “you” and “I.”

Sunday, September 2, 2012

For All The Gold In The Yukon

The way outsiders view Canada is particularly interesting. Aside from the typical stereotype that everyone in the country is white, blonde and blue-eyed – that seems to me more reminiscent of “The Children of The Corn” or the “Refuge of the Damned” - I have come across quite a number of incredible misconceptions. Friends in Latin America have asked me, “Is it true that your government gives you a house for free?” Man, I must have lucked out on that one! I have even heard radio commercials in a taxi in Mexico City advertising this statement. Watch out welfare state, they all know! You would be surprised how many times I have been asked this question.

Our blonde, blue-eyed, white people of Canada

In emerging economies, particularly Latin America, Canadians are not seen to be much different from Americans – although locals tell us we are better behaved. We are all gringos being paid in dollars, yet little do they know, we pay everything in dollars as well. Canada is viewed as a land of opportunity and our citizens as having enough money to bail out a small country. They must be watching too many Scotiabank commercials. Are we really richer than we think? In fact, we are not much different from the rest of the advanced economies when we boil it down to purchasing power: our discretionary income is subject to our cost of living. Well, we are also quite heavily taxed but then again, we all believe that no matter where we live. Like everyone else, we enjoy a better standard of living in contrast to monarchs of decades past, thanks in big part to credit and borrowing. We have witnessed what happens when going overboard watching the news. This can also happen to your household economy. Living beyond your means will catch up to haunt you, anywhere in the world.

Latin America is at a significant disadvantage primarily due to its tumultuous political, economic and social history. Some countries in the region are cleaning up their act and beginning to gather up admirable momentum. Their exposure to the global economic crisis is quite limited which provides a safer investment climate. However, institutions continue to be somewhat weak and major unexpected shifts are to be expected. Guerrilla movements, drug trafficking, populist leaders, a small powerful elite, kidnappings are all still part of the every day reality making these areas volatile. A potential Chavez can sneak in and “redistribute” wealth at any moment. You don’t believe me? Well, neither did Venezuela’s elite and middle-class yet it happened nonetheless. Anyone notice how unsatisfied Cristina Fernandez (de Kirchner) has followed suit, increasingly isolating Argentina from the world? It’s time to cry for Argentina. Everyone has a breaking point, and the majority of poor people carrying a heavy burden can definitely bite back.  

However, this is ironically also Latin America’s advantage over Canada. There is a true spirit of entrepreneurship engrained in the national psyche. The unkind circumstances many generations faced mixed in with a certain local ingenuity in their blood have created an extremely adaptable population. In Canada, if you study economics, you become an economist. If you study education, you become a teacher. It’s the general rule. Everything is degree and permit-based these days and the different layers of government maintain the status quo. An economist can’t choose to become an importer or distributor unless they possess the funds to put themselves through expensive courses, eventually obtaining a certification and a new career. Patience is a virtue. Once certified, if he wants to import apples and shaving cream, he will require separate authorization from individual bureaucracies and pay yet another fee. Over in Latin America, people are flexible because of instability and there are always ways around getting from point A to point B. If you need a permit, many times, all you need is a bit of cheddar.

A homeless man on Bay Street, an image not often considered of Canada

Our main advantage as Canadians is having been born in the right country when it comes to safety and security. Perhaps it could be the maple syrup flowing from our taps that makes us so peaceful. Or maybe it’s our obsession with hockey where we punch and body check our stress that would lead us to become criminals? Whatever it is, we are the envy of the world. People are enticed to move here when they find out about salaries offered in our big cities, yet our mortgages and rents are also higher. It’s all very relative. We are as wealthy as others when compared to standard of living. Before you take the big leap to leave your country or go to another, as I always say, do your homework to avoid any serious heartbreak. All the gold we have left here are the Yukon gold potatoes.