Where I fit in the box of crayons....

Do you ever get that feeling like there's more out there? That's the feeling that brought me to beyond borders. The global community is growing, and I have not yet become a part of it. I want to be a contributing citizen to the global community through participation and action. Over the years, I have developed an appreciation for diversity and difference, and look for other ways that people are doing things. There’s a whole world out there beyond our North American perspective that has the potential to change the way I see things, and to change my life. Gahndi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." I think we should not only find the change within ourselves, but also take part in the change we want to see in the world. I hope that Beyond Borders will offer a medium in which I can be the change I want to see in the world, and also take part in that change.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A funny thing happened on the way to the post box….

I have this thing about sending postcards. When Felix and I travel instead of buying souvenirs (most souvenirs are tacky made in china junk that no one wants in their house) we send a post card at least once a day from every major attraction/stop. Everyone loves getting mail (no one knows this better than you Janet, thank you soooo much) and it’s our way of keeping our loved ones in our thoughts along our journey. I have tried to keep up with this while here in Ukraine, but post cards are just not as easy to come by as they are at home. I have sent as many as possible (I end up buying 50 post cards any time I find them anywhere and people look at me funny) and today noticed something a little peculiar…

Nearly a month ago I visited Lviv to send off my Canadian travel buddies (you’ll remember Sean and Mike from a previous post). In Lviv there is this lovely restaurant called Криївка (krayeevaka) which is housed in a piece of history - the location used to be a hidden base for the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in the time of Stepan Bandera. When you get to the door, you must knock; a little window opens and you are asked who you are; You must say that you are Ukrainian and give the password: "Слава Україні!" (slava ookraeenee - Glory to Ukraine). Once you are let in, at "gun" point you must take a shot of Horilka (vodka) and then you are lead down into the base. It's a pretty neat experience and I noticed they sold post cards!!! Excitedly I bought up a whole bunch featuring either Stepan Bandera or photos of the Insurgent Army in Lviv. I also found a little gift shop in the center of Lviv (horrendously overpriced) where I bought other postcards featuring shots of the city. I cant remember how many I sent out; perhaps 18 ish some from Криївка, and some generic ones from Lviv.

As noted with the Fedex post, Mail is a particular problem here. There is a whole lot of corruption, and it’s not state regulated like Canada Post is at home, it is unbelievably unreliable and for Ukrainians it can be pretty expensive. All in all it is a terrible system that most Ukrainians try to avoid at all costs (Tanya recently traveled to Kiev to drop off a document – a nearly 24 hour turn around trip – because the post here is just not reliable enough to use).

When I send post cards, I always date them: partially so that I document my travels, but also to keep tabs on the various postal systems and how long they take to ship to Canada. Sometimes post cards from Ukraine to Canada travel in as short a period as a week and a half, but can and have taken over a month.

Aside from having a thing about post cards, I also have a thing about conspiracy theories/stories and I definitely enjoy implementing any government in maniacal plans to meddle in the lives of the people. To that end, Tanya and I have had many conversations about the political climate here in Ukraine, particularly the bitter and unfortunate ongoing relationship with Russia which is being coveted by the recently current president. When I showed her the Insurgent Army post cards we joked about putting them in envelopes to send them so that they don’t get stopped by “big brother” so to speak…

Within two weeks of sending my Lviv postcards I started receiving thank you notes from people – but I was only hearing from people who had received the regular Lviv postcards. At that point I didn’t think much of it…. ready for my terrible prejudiced assumption: I sent the Криївка cards mostly to my friends who are my age, a large majority of them male, and assumes that perhaps a thank you had slipped their minds. Then my best friend Nick thanked me for his parent’s post card and I detected a hint of disappointment in his voice. He was sad that I sent his parents a post card (a beautiful shot of the Lviv opera house) and not him – but here’s the thing I had sent him a card – a Stepan Bandera card because I thought he would appreciate that more! I promised him that his was on its way and didn’t think about it again. Then today I got another thank you message from Matt, who finally (a month later) received his Stepan Bandera post card and it hit me: the “rebel cards” have all been significantly delayed in getting to their destinations!!!

I am not sure what is really going on, perhaps it is just a coincidence, but I can assure you that my brain has runaway with stories that would make 1984 look like a child's fable!

IF you get one of these post cards in the mail, please make a note of the date, and save it: I want to make sure that none of what I wrote was redacted!!!!

I’ll keep sending post cards, and I’m definitely going to try and find some more rebellious ones to see if it happens again *grin*


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

DON'T talk to strangers?!?!?!

Most parents teach their children not to talk to strangers. Parents do this in order to protect their children from strangers who might in fact be predators looking to harm the child in some way. My family had an awfully difficult time impressing this lesson upon me (you shouldn’t be that surprised). When I was of school age my morning walk to school was usually a source of great anxiety for my family because I wanted to hug and kiss everyone who walked by; my favourite people on my way to school were the Garbage collectors (all men at that time). We tell stories now about me chasing the garbage truck to get my hug and kiss from each of the men! I vividly remember being chastised for this: “Denise don’t hug and kiss strangers!!” To which I would always reply “they AREN'T strangers, they are my friends!!”

Last night I lay in bed thinking about connecting with people and uncovered another piece of my personal philosophy: I am intrigued but the potential for connection in every interaction. I believe that every interaction holds the potential for a connection and moreover, a positive outcome. (Like the chicken and the egg) I am not sure whether I think this way because I am a humanist/Humanitarian, or if I became a humanist/Humanitarian because I have always thought this way, but I believe that every human being in the world has something positive to offer or share with every other human – however small or large.

Some of you have received one of my “e-troductions” – I will often send a little note introducing friend A to friend B by telling them a little bit about each other and explaining what they have in common and how they might be able to help each other. My goal is to create space for positive interactions that benefit all people directly involved as well as add to a collective consciousness that moves in the direction of positively impacting the world as a whole. Some of you think I’m crazy when I do this, but those of you that have followed up on them realize quickly that it can be helpful to connect with someone who is travelling a similar path (PS: Mike, have you sent that E-mail yet?!).

I still haven’t learned my lesson about strangers, and I’m all the better for it. Here in Ukraine I have made some unlikely friends with people :

William the Welshman – William was a wonderful (albeit very drunk man) Mike and I met one night while out at the bar. He was charming, and entertaining. William told us about hie time spent as a soldier, losing his friends, marrying, divorcing, remarrying, divorcing and remarrying, he told us about his children, and his family. For mike and I he added distraction from a very unfortunate event, and livened up a lethargic evening. Sadly we haven’t heard from William again but the connection had a positive impact on Mike and I and we on him if only for one evening

Jim - Jim is an American I met yesterday at the train station. I heard him speaking English and struggling to find his way around, and instead of minding my own business I piped up “it’s nice to know I’m not the only one lost around here!” Jim has been in Ternopil for a month doing business (software design) but doesn’t speak a WORD of Ukrainian (this is a reoccurring trend with Americans, and slightly disappointing). Jim had a friend write out what he needed (a ticket on the next train to Budapest) but there was a problem at the ticket counter. It’s a good thing I had decided to talk to a stranger because I was able to help Jim and the ticket seller communicate and figure out his travel arrangements. Jim and I went for a walk afterwards and shared travel stories and reflections on Ukraine and Ternopil. For Jim the connection between him and I was essential to him getting to Budapest, and for me I had a positive 2 hours spent in the company of someone who spoke English and understood the reflections of a Westerner abroad.

André – my “friend at the bizarr” as my family calls him was one of the first “Ukrainian strangers” I connected with. I met André in the beginning of my trip. I walk through a small bizarre on my way home everyday and am always tempted by the wonderful fruit. In my first weeks purchasing things was a problem because I knew very little Ukrainian and still to this day struggle with numbers. Andre was kind and helpful he struggled to use long forgotten English training to help me and make me feel more at home. He always asked about my day, what I was learning and what kind of adventures I was up to. I have met his wife, and his son, and am always greeted warmly and treated with kindness. Now I don’t come home without fresh fruit from Andre. Our conversations have helped me significantly with my Ukrainian skills, he has connected me with some of his friends who have taken me sight seeing and taught me a lot about the culture here. For him I am a friendly face, a positive Canadian contact, and a loyal customer.

Slavic is my bus driver. Every day I take 2 busses to get to the orphanage the second of which is a tiny little bus driven (#33) by an older man (he said he’s been driving a bus for 44 years). A tidbit of information is that Ukrainians are very stoic – they don’t smile, they don’t talk to strangers, they don’t say thank you, or please, or excuse me. I have done my best to fit into the culture, but I refuse to give up smiling and salutations! Everyday when I get on the bus I greet my driver with a smile, and a friendly salutation and never depart with out a thank-you. Slavic caught on quick that I wasn’t from around here. We one day had a conversation about where I’m from and what I was doing there. Over the last 3 weeks our relationship has become more friendly – he gives me candies, I bring him cookies or treats, he sometimes wont accept a fare from me (despite my insistence) and always tries hard to engage in conversation. Today it was pouring rain out and the central dispatch called to tell Salvic he didn’t have to work for the rest of the day (the route to the Internat is not heavily travelled), and I happened to get on the bus on his last run. At my usual stop he told me not to get off – he was going to take me home. He said he wanted to take me out for coffee and show me the city. Truth be told, I was a little nervous at first just me alone on the bus with the driver and he was going to “take me out” because I really wasn’t sure of his intentions. I stayed on the bus… I don’t know enough Ukrainian to decline politely soooooo I went with it. Thank Goodness I did. Slavic drove me around the city showing me all sorts of new and interesting things. I then found out that we live a couple blocks from each other and he took me to a wonderful little bar run by a nice woman where we had coffee, and ice-cream and candies; Slavic introduced me to some of his friends. It was so nice to be out and meeting people and talking about their lives. He wouldn’t let me pay for anything, and insisted that he get my phone number s we can go out more often. Then he drove me home. I now look even ore forward to my commute knowing I have a friend along the way.

I realize that we all have to have our wits about us and be aware when engaging with people that we don’t know, but the vast majority of people out there are kind hearted and wonderful. I think I am writing this post to erase the idea of "stranger danger" and advertise how enriching a new connection can be. Human beings are social creatures (so we’ve all heard again and again) but that doesn’t mean being social just within out own groups, that involves being social and widening our networks. This adventure has really impressed upon my how big the world is and how much lies beyond our tiny little Canadian existance. I think that being a social creature dictates that we break out of our small reaities and socialize with all Humans.

I really enjoy these connections, and I enjoy the adventures that every interaction carries. Some of you, readers, are related to me so I had no choice but to know you, but many of you were at one time strangers (some of you still are!) – isn’t it wonderful that we didn’t listen to our parents?

Hugs and kisses cause you aren't strangers, you're my friends!


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Unexpected lesson

Slow down, you’re moving too fast. You’ve got to make the morning last; just kicking down the coble stones, looking for fun and Feelin’ Groovy – Simon and Garfunkle 1966

Infinite wisdom contained in that short little verse.

My mission in life, and what drove me to get here has always been “to help others” (come hell or highwater). Carm Desantis (one of my [amazing] profs) always asked “Denise, what about self care?”. The question used to frusturate me because I really didn’t know what that was or how to achieve it I was always in the “help others" gear. In my Beyond borders interview Joanne asked “when you’re stressed and over worked, how do you take care of yourself?” and I responded “I look for more to take on because helping others charges my batteries”. My mission is still to help others (it takes up the bulk of my day especially here in Ukraine), but it seems to me that I have learned an unexpected lesson here in Ukraine: Self Care. It has come as a bit of surprise to me that while I am here in Ukraine carrying out the ultimate project (so far) of my life’s mission I have learned an awful lot about helping me.

At first I felt kind of guilty for “slowing down”. My first month and a half here was spent trying to keep myself busy and focused on the orphanage and ‘helping’ the girls. In doing so I was knocking my head against the wall and starting to feel like I wasn’t actually accomplishing anything. I had a week or so of struggle where I was doubting myself and my ability to accomplish ANYTHING during my time here.

Then this strange motivation came over me to focus some of my time inwards (I have no idea where this came from, it just happened organically). Then all of sudden within a week of being a little bit more self focused, it all clicked. I now have a renewed energy in regards to the Orphanage and the girls, I am feeling less defeatist and all of the things that I had been struggling with (like how to plan activities, where to get materials, a significant language barrier…) have just fallen into place.

It took me some time to be comfortable with the idea of spending sometime with myself and for myself; this is not a concept I am particularly used to. But, in watching the changes I realized quickly how effective "helping me" was in realtion to my helping of others! Now, I no longer feel guilty for taking the time out for me, and have learned over the last few weeks that if I care a little bit for me, I am so much better prepared to carry out my goals of helping others. Great things are happening at the orphanage and I am witnessing a change in the girls: how they act, how they interact, how they carry themselves… I'm excited to see this continue for the next 62 days.

Last night I watched “The Princess and the Frog” (my goodness I’ve forgotten how terrible Disney movies can be… ) but one of the messages that came through from Mama Odie was don’t focus on what you want (in my case to help others every waking second), but try and find what you really need (I needed self care to help me be more effective at helping others)

I hope that this lesson is something I can bring home with me and keep in the habit of doing. If not I will hear Carm's ever repeated message: “Denise what about self care?” and actually know what it is she is talking about!!

Personal accomplishments:

Completion of a paper that was due in NOVEMBER and getting an A+ on it

26 days of non smoking

Booking a backpacking trip to Poland and Prague

2 weeks of Running
13 days of training (2 days of rest)
Average run – 4.5km
Average direct Calorie burn 275

Total distance 55km
Total direct calorie burn 3519



EX-clusive Language

I've been toying with this idea for a while, but reading this article (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-10728912) about two Muslim Girls being denied access on a London (UK) bus because of their head coverings has helped my idea to boil over.

I have posted before about the use of language and how it can negatively affect others. But for now, let me define "Inclusive Language": inclusive language means using language that doesn't single out any person by their age, gender, orientation, ability, religion or anything else. Using inclusive language ensures that all humans are spoken about as equals, and are not excluded in any way based on language. For Instance I refer to Felix as my "partner" rather than my boyfriend or husband or any other gendered term. I do this mainly so that I am using a gender neutral and orientation neutral term that allows all members of any group to talk about their partner without having to identify the gender of their partner, and in tern their sexual orientation. Inclusive language includes terms like firefighter rather than fireman (or firewoman), and identifying that a person HAS a disability rather than IS disabled. Language is powerful - we must be so careful because of the power we wield with our words. Here I propose something completely opposite... Exclusive language.

Please think back to swine flu. Swine flu was renamed in the media because it was causing problems in Jewish communities - first because observant Jews thought they were immune to the swine flu because they had no contact with the animal in question, and then secondly because of the shame and stigmatism connected with the virus if it was contracted by observant members of a community. There was a campaign to rename Swine flu to Mexican Flu in order to circumnavigate these problems.

Now to my point: I think a very strong case can be made for the renaming of one of two groups of people - Either we should start calling the Muslim Extremists by a different name, or we must find a new (positive association) moniker for the rest of the Muslims out there. The differentiation I speak of is in hopes of excluding members of one group of Muslims from inclusion in the other group.

I could go into a diatribe about the Muslim faith and how the image of the Muslim extremists is so totally opposite to the fundamentals of Muslim faith, but I’ll let you do that research on your own. I do want to bring another incident of this term mix up to your attention though: in New York City there is a plan to build a Mosque and Muslim Community Center two blocks away from the World Trade Center site. This plan has sparked outrage from some American, and they have chosen Sarah Palin as their champion to ‘tweet’ requests that “the peaceful Muslims” “refudiate” (a wonderful Palin-ism) their plans to build there because the pain of 9/11 is still too raw. She went through a series of tweets on the subject, and eventually got to “Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing.” I have two questions to ask here: 1) how large should the ‘no Muslim’ zone be in NYC? Because 2 blocks away ISN’T ground zero I am wondering if all of Manhattan should rid themselves of “peace seeking Muslims” so that hearts are not stabbed? My second question is why are we painting the whole Muslim faith demographic with the same brush as the Osama Extremists? Ms Palin shows here that she has very little knowledge of the group of people (1,100,000,000 – 1,271,000,000 people strong) that is the second largest faith demographic in the World. If all 1.3 billion Muslims had the same mentality as the very few Extremists… well, I won’t get into potential situations… but really think about what the planet would look like if all 1.3 billion Muslims were cut from the same cloth as the extremists… Case in point here (that not all peaceful muslims are the same as the extremists), the plan is not for an artillery factory, the plan is for a community center with a swimming pool, an auditorium and art gallery space to enrich the lives of the community; I cant find anything at all provocative about that…. (Here’s one of the ground zero mosque articles: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/a-rolling-twit-gathers-no-mosque/article1650127/)

I think it should be up to the (peaceful) Muslims of the world to either chose a new name, or rename the extremists something that is befitting (the right thing bay be to think up a vile name for the extremists, but if I were a non extremist Muslim I would choose a new name, because “Muslim” has been so sullied by fundamentalist groups but that just my personal opinion). This linguistic exclusion of regular Muslims from the extremists is an exercise in training the brain to see humans as humans, and not stereotyping 1.3 billion people based on the action of a handful (America has the highest rate of adults who have sex with children in the world, but we do not think of all Americans as pedophiles – we call pedophiles ‘pedophiles’ and non pedophilic Americans ‘Americans’). As I have said, words are powerful and “Muslim” has taken on a life of its own and invokes images that lead to prejudice. Something HAS to be done about the racism and prejudice that so many Muslims are faced with as every person can conjur up and image (usually unfavourable) when they hear the word “Muslim”.

If you are Muslim, and reading, drop a line: lets begin a dialogue….


Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Tale of a Mouse

Here is a little fable about a mouse and his troubles....

A mouse looked through the crack
in the wall to see the farmer and
his wife open a package.

What food might this contain?'
The mouse wondered - - -
he was devastated to discover it
was a mousetrap.

Retreating to the farmyard,
the mouse proclaimed the warning :
There is a mousetrap in the house!
There is a mousetrap in the house!'

The chicken clucked and scratched,
raised her head and said,
'Mr.Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern
to you, but it is of no consequence
to me. I cannot be bothered by it.'

The mouse turned to
the pig and told him,
'There is a mousetrap in the house!
There is a mousetrap in the house!'
The pig sympathized, but said, I am
so very sorry, Mr.Mouse, but there
is nothing I can do about it but pray.
Be assured you are in my prayers.'

The mouse turned to
the cow and said
'There is a mousetrap in the house!
There is a mousetrap in the house!'
The cow said, 'Wow, Mr. Mouse.
I'm sorry for you, but it's no skin
off my nose.'

So, the mouse returned to the
house, head down and dejected,
to face the farmer's mousetrap . . .

That very night a sound was heard throughout
the house -- like the sound of a mousetrap catching
its prey. The farmer's wife rushed to see
what was caught. In the darkness,
she did not see it was a venomous
snake whose tail the trap had caught.
The snake bit the farmer's wife.

The farmer rushed her to the hospital,
and she returned home with a fever.

Everyone knows you treat a fever
with fresh chicken soup, so the
farmer took his hatchet to the
farmyard for the soup's main ingredient.
But his wife's sickness continued,
so friends and neighbors came to
sit with her around the clock.
To feed them, the farmer
butchered the pig.

The farmer's wife did not get well;
she died.

So many people came for her funeral,
the farmer had the cow slaughtered to
provide enough meat for all of them.

The mouse looked upon it all from
his crack in the wall with great sadness.

The next time you hear someone
is facing a problem and think it
doesn't concern you,

remember ----

when one of us is threatened,
we are all at risk.

here's the rest of the advice the viral email forward included
(which is more appropriate than usual)

We must keep an eye out for one another and make an extra
effort to encourage one another.

Each of us is a vital thread on another person's tapestry
Our lives are woven together for a reason.

I'm happy to be here to lend a hand when you've got a problem...


Friday, July 16, 2010

Worth a closer look...

It turns out that this upcomming week happens to be Special Education week (it something that I would celebrate DURING the school year... but I dont make the rules...). I would like to encourage you to spread awareness about mental, emotional and physical disabilities if you can.

One of the ways that you can do that is to watch this video, and share either it, or the information contained within it with at least one other person....

Thank you to Lauren Jane for bringing it to my attention.


An exploration of pride...

Pride is an interesting thing as it is interpreted in so many different ways. To some it is a virtue held in high regard; to others it is a sin and the place from which man takes the greatest fall. Here’s what I mean:

Aristotle included pride in his Nichomachean Ethics as “greatness of soul”. In excess pride can lead to vanity. Aristotle explained that all people should have a healthy dose of pride in their personality because for him, pride relates to honour. If you are not familiar with Aristotle the thing to note here is that pride fits in as a piece of a whole system of virtues and pride is not a ruler, but must be ruled by the principal of temperance where the virtuous person takes the mean route, and not a passage of excess or deficiency – therefore pride must not be come a dominant trait.

Nietzsche saw pride as the thing that keeps us out of the grips of slavery. Pride is the acknowledgement of goodness and nobility within ourselves and this acknowledgement is what keeps human being from being subservient.

In Christian philosophy, Pride is listed as one of the seven deadly sins. Many theologians believe pride to be the worst sin because it is from pride that the other sins are birthed. It is pride (loving yourself so much that you begin to see others as other and less than) that prompted Lucifer to compete with God, and ultimately fall from heaven.

In Eastern philosophies pride is seen as a negative trait that leads to inflation of the ego. Pride inflates a person into thinking that they are special and is the root cause of all suffering pain and fear. Eastern religions urge people to let go of their pride to be more connected to their own, and their fellow soul.

In Spanish there are two words use to describe pride: Orgullo and Soberbia. Orgullo is the pride that Aristotle and Nietzsche talk about – the pride that is felt when you accomplish something or you are part of something that makes you feel good. Soberbia, in contrast, is the pride that puts the self before all else, and overrides good judgement.

Here are examples of what has been said about pride:

The good
Annon - “Pride is a personal commitment. It is an attitude which separates excellence from mediocrity.”
Paul Bryant (NFL coach)- “Show class, have pride, and display character. If you do, winning takes care of itself.”
Gary Ryan Blair (motivational speaker) “Discipline is based on pride, on meticulous attention to details, and on mutual respect and confidence. Discipline must be a habit so ingrained that it is stronger than the excitement of the goal or the fear of failure.”

The Bad

Proverb - “Pride comes before a fall”
The Bible - “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom”
John Ruskin (English writer) - “In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes.”
Thomas Fuller (clergy) “Pride will spit in pride's face.”
Thomas Jefferson (3rd US president) - “Pride costs more than hunger, thirst and cold.”
C.S. Lewis - “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you're looking down, you can't see something that's above you.”

What I think....
I tend to see pride as a problem. I agree with Eastern philosophies that pride commits a person to thinking that they are special and therefore better than those around them. Like in C.S. Lewis’s thought about pride, having pride is like having on blinders that keep you from seeing other greatness around you. pride is the route of all prejudice. Pride also precludes us from realizing our own faults and short comings. I do think that we should all be praised for our successes, and we should have positive thoughts about our accomplishments and our personal achievements, but this too should be governed by temperance (as Aristotle taught) and matched with Humility. We should all also have the time and space to acknowledge and reflect on our personal faults because it is this reflection the leads to personal betterment. I think it is unbridled pride that gets us into the most amount of trouble, and causes the most problems – if we all have inflated ideas of ourselves there is not enough room for us all to co-exist.

Here are the pride quotes that really resonate with me, and illustrate how I feel about pride:
Hebrew proverb - “Pride is the mask we make of our faults”
Annon - “Temper gets you into trouble. Pride keeps you there.”
Anonn - “No one ever choked to death swallowing his pride”
Most importantly…
Proverb - “It is better to lose your pride with someone you love rather than to lose that someone you love with your useless pride.” (This is for you, whether you are reading or not.)


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Down with FedEx.

As canadians most of us will take an unfavourable answer if it's candy coated in sorries and I hope you understands, but this is disrespect...

about a month ago I wrote a letter to FedEx asking if they would be willing the compensate the expense of shipping 6 digital cameras from Toronto to Ukraine to be used by the girls in the orphanage. then I wrote 3 follow up letters checking in on the status of my request. I am extremely disappointed in the way they responded. Here is their formulaic response letter to me, and my response back. Please think about this episode the next time you need to ship something.....

the Fedex response after over a month....

Dear Denise,

Thank you for your letter offering Federal Express Canada Ltd. the opportunity to provide donated/discounted shipping in support of your initiative in the Ukraine.

Your letter was forwarded to me by our customer service department, as I am responsible for FedEx corporate social responsibility programs in Canada.

I'm sorry to say that FedEx will not be able to offer support at this time.

As I'm sure you can appreciate, we receive numerous charitable, sponsorship and advertising requests from employees, customers and the general public. Unfortunately, with limited resources, we are unable to assist all those who ask for and merit our assistance.

As such, we have chosen to limit our support to very specific groups/causes in order to meet with our corporate strategy and communication/marketing objectives.

To learn more about the work we do in the community and the organizations we support, please visit http://www.fedex.com/ca_english/about/eventandsponsor/.

Thank you again for considering FedEx. We wish you great success.
Stephen Anderson / stephen.anderson@fedex.com
T 905.212.5374 / 1.877.363.6316
F 905.212.5670
M 416.553.6806

MY response...

Hello Stephen,

Although I am sure that this does not relate personally to you (please forward to customer service, or any other department that may handle this), it is really disappointing that this is the response I have received from Federal Express Canada. Your response letter is disappointing for two reasons, having very little to do with saying no.

The first reason that your letter is disappointing is that it is a formulaic letter. I expect generic copy and paste letters for companies that respond within 24 to 48 hours to a sponsorship request - not companies that take over a month to respond to a request. I would have expected something a little bit more original with over a month to think about this. It is a shame that this is the level of customer service that Federal Express thinks is sufficient.

The second reason that this is extremely disappointing is length of time it has taken for a response to be received. The reason that I contacted Federal Express in the first place is so that we could get the cameras to the girls at the orphanage much quicker than ground post (which is till slightly over what my budget allows for). I have waited over a month for a reply in which time the cameras could have been sent, and received. The time it has taken you to send a formulaic response letter is time that has been taken away from very important people. It is a shame that this was of such low priority, and that your company can not appreciate the importance of doing something good for someone else. With the time you have taken to respond, you have essentially robbed these 60 girls of a wonderful opportunity to learn a new skill, and enjoy a tiny bit of enrichment in their grim and dreary lives.

I am very much used to hearing "no" from companies; when you are in the business of asking for charity, no must be a response you are ok with hearing. I am a mere drop in the bucket of corporate giving - I offer no banner space, or mutual advertising/exposure. It is not a good PR move to help me out because no one, really, will ever know - so I understand. This isn't about the "no" response. Your response to my request says two things to me: 1) it says that Federal Express Canada does not really actually value the work that its customers are engaged in on a community level, and 2) Federal express does not see the customer as a number one priority. These two facts are saddening to learn because I always rely on Federal Express for my shipping needs, but now know that your "Choose FedEx to experience outstanding customer service" tag line is not the reality of the company. As a customer I feel unappreciated, and disrespected because of the way you have handled this request. I do understand that you receive may request for donations, and have an appreciating for limited resources, but I really think that you could have handled this request much much better.

I would like to let you know that you have lost a customer because of this incident, and I intend to let all my donors and friends know about the length of time it took to respond, the way in which you responded, and what your response was. Again, I am extremely disappointed with this whole situation. I will be using another company for my shipping needs to get the cameras to Ukraine, and for anything else beyond that.

I do hope that you improve your customer service practices.

Denise Soueidan-O'Leary

Monday, July 12, 2010


Felix and I have parties. We have lots of parties. We have lots of big parties with lots of people. I create a theme for each party. Every party has a different theme. Every theme involves everything at the party being related to the theme (invitations, food, decorations, plates, thank yous, loot bags/take home gifts). Before every party we have a huge fight and both of us threaten to call all of the guests (usually between 40-60ppl) and cancel the party. Felix and I then have a party.

The fights we have had in the past are comical in hindsight. One, in particular, comes to mind… a few Christmases ago we were hosting our annual Christmas party. There are a few traditions we carry through all of our parties and one happens to be cupcakes. This Christmas I have found and bought Christmas themed cupcake cups and put them away somewhere for safe keeping. Fast forward. Day of the party, 4 hours before guests arrive: I need to make the cupcakes so they can cool and can be iced before the party, but first I need my Christmas cupcake cups… “Felix, hunny, where are the Christmas muffin cups I bought last month?” (Felix used to have a wonderful answer to questions like this) “I don’t know” he replied and walked away and so began a HUGE blow out. We fought in the house about the cupcakes, we fought in the hallway about who was calling everyone, we fought in the parking garage about who was gonna get to storm off in an angry huff (I won this one as I had the car keys). I went to a friend’s, cooled down and eventually returned home with a snack for Felix accompanied by his favourite bottle of wine. We had a splendid evening, and no one noticed that the cupcakes were NOT baked in Christmas cups. We found the cupcake cups a year and a half later as we were packing up our condo to move, and we laughed.

Today was a Holiday in Ukraine (I don’t know which holiday, I know the church was open… they have LOTS of holidays here). The family has been in a tizzy for 3 days getting ready to have a small dinner party. Including the family, there was to be 10 people sitting around the dinner table, and I think we cooked enough food for 40; including, but not limited to a full cow heart – ventricles and all! There was a lot of work to do today, and the clock was ticking away. I was aware of a potential storm brewing last night as I was up on the computer waitint to talk to felix and Mama was pacing back and fourth – she was in pain she said – and I worried about her lack of sleep the night before the big day.

I was right, about 2 hours before the scheduled arrival of our guests the apartment erupted – apparently all 4 of the white table cloths had been forgotten about, and for some reason at the moment the iron was not working. It was a catastrophe. There were tears, and yelling, and slamming and stomping. I was struggling to follow along at the beginning, and eventually excused myself to my room as I decided it was a family moment ad my being there might provoke more stress by heaping on embarrassment to the pile.

Once things had calmed down a little bit and the stomping and slamming turned into weeping I emerged and tried to disarm the situation – in broken Ukrainian I tried to explain that it really wants a HUGE deal, and there was nothing we could do about it now. My message didn’t really get across I was told that I didn’t understand how important it was to have a white table cloth in Ukraine… I still thought it was a small detail (and when I tried to explain this she thought I was telling her that she was acting like a little child, rather than telling here it was a small detail – but this wasn’t my worst language blunder of the day…).

I have to say it was so interesting to be on the outside of this one. To watch temperatures and stress levels rise and finally peak. I tracked the warning signs and could relate with every stage of the stress. But the most interesting part was realizing that the things that trigger these stress blowups are usually soooooo unbelievably trivial and inconsequential. I know that if I was mama and someone told me what I was telling her I’d want to smack them (I’d probably want to do more violent things to them, but I wont detail those here), and there would be no sense in trying to calm me down. But seeing it from a spectators perspective lent a whole new lens to these stress situations.

What I realized is how silly these fights look from the outside – really? That kind of a fight over MUFFIN CUPS?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? When I am in these situations I say and do exactly the same things. Blowing up doesn’t solve the problem it just makes everyone feel like crap. The striking realization was how silly one looks when engaged in this kind of behavior… and I don’t think I ever want to look like this ever again! The tears and the stomping and the slamming and th yelling didn’t get mama her white table cloth, and they didn’t find me my muffin cups. In the end we both just lost time, and had to take up more time being the puppy with our tail between our legs apologizing to the people around us who we abused.

I guess the bottom line is that no one is immune to stress, and it really is all in the way we handle it. Realizing that these stressful situations cause me to act like a child and abuse the people I love over trivial b*llsh*t is a good thing, and will hopefully give me pause to think about my actions the next party we have (it’s looking like thanksgiving for anyone who’s interested…). It was a neat learning experience… And turned out to be a great dinner even with the blue table cloth.

Looking forward to the next (fight free) party


Saturday, July 10, 2010

They all placed bets….

My friends and family (yes you!) all placed bets wagering on how long it would take me to decide to bring home an orphan, and also how many I would come home with… most were utterly astonished that it has taken me this long to profess my intention to bring home an orphan. I wanna know who won what....

It took me 59 days – just under two months – to post that I wanted to bring home (at least) one of the kids from the Internat – and there are two that if given the opportunity, I would pack in my suitcase.

There are two valid questions here 1) why did it take me this long, and 2)why would I like to bring home an orphan.

The first question is what everyone is wondering. I am not sure I can fully answer that right now and I think I will suggest that you stay tuned to future posts because there’s something big brewing; I’m just waiting to my brain to finish processing…. But I will say that this is partially due to a language barrier that has prevented the type of bonding I was initially expecting, and it has taken this long (2 months) for strong bonds and connections to really come to fruition… but more on this upcoming…

The second question. This will also make much more sense after the next couple blogs but I am ready to post this one, not those ones…

So the two girls I would bring home with me are Ira, and Rosa. Who they are is intertwined with why I want to bring them home. I do not feel a strong “family” type connection with these girls. I care about them but not any more that the other girls (ok, maybe a LITTLE bit) but there is something special about these two. I think it’s partially their receptiveness to learning, their ability to problem solve, and be flexible, and how they perform when given a task. They are bright, trusting, and most importantly willing.

Ira has been my life line. She sticks close by me and helps to break down some of the language barriers. She is always looking for ways to help explain words that I don’t understand and simplifies things that the other kids say to me. She is there to help explain activities, and has taught me quite a few new words and concepts. This is a challenging task for a 13 year old. You need to have a grasp of the language and be flexible in your usage of words and meanings. I think she is one of very few of the girls that has this level of mental functioning. I am very much concerned that she is not being stimulated enough at the Internat.

As for Rosa, she is quiet, but keen. She is interested in learning new things and always seeks reassurance and approval. She does not have Ira’s level of mental functioning, but what she lacks in ability she makes up for with tenacity. I enjoy teaching her new things and watching her gain confidence as she struggles, learns and masters whatever it is she is doing. The thing that pulls at my heart the most is that (I am going out on a HUGE limb here) in watching Rosa I think that living in a hetronormative/homonegative environment may be problematic for Rosa as she ages.

Wanting to bring these two girls home is not because I want to collect a gaggle of international children (a la Angelina), and it’s not even because I’m DYING to be a parent; it is really more for their own sake. I think that these are the two girls, out of all of the children at the Internat, that have the ability to adapt to the move and possess the qualities necessary for them to flourish in Canadian society. To bring them to Canada would be opening up a world of possibility for them, and allowing them opportunities that they can not even dream about while living in an institution in Ukraine. For Ira it is the potential for mental stimulation, and perhaps even a long an fruitful educational career. For Rosa it is partially the mental stimulation, but also being able to live in a culture that allows her to express herself, and encourages her to become herown person. This isn’t to say that the other girls are not worth of opportunity, but I don’t think all of them are capable of making the same kind of drastic life change (i.e. moving to a whole different country/life/family…).

The Internat is a place that, in my mind, is devoid of anything remotely resembling opportunity. It is the antithesis of opportunity. I feel like there is a great big neon sign at the driveway flashing a garish “DEAD END” to anyone who cares to steal a glance. It would be my greatest joy to be able to liberate all of the girls from their purgative sentences there, but there seems to be a greater urgency for some, like Ira and Rosa, than others.

Felix made it very clear that the only things allowed I my suitcase were non living items, and I have no choice but to listen at this point… BUT let it be know that if I had the means of supporting these two wonderful girls, I would be filling in adoption papers rather than posting this blog.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Beauty is more than what's outside.... it's about lessons.

For some people at the Internat (nurses/workers) it is a job that pays money, and at the end of the day they go home. There are others, the rare gems that work there, and for them it is about enriching the lives of the girls. Bogdan is one such gem. He is kind of like a grandfather figure to the girls – teaching them songs, music, poems. I have “caught” him bring the girls fresh picked fruit, or candies of other little treats. Bogdan regularly tries to come up with events, or activities that will be new, interesting and stimulating for the girls. He loves to teach them new songs, and new dances and tries to find opportunities for them to showcase their talents. Bogdan really likes when the Canadian Students arrive because they are always full of new ideas for new moves, new events, and other ways to stimulate and enrich the lives of the Girls at the orphanage.

Through the translator that was with me for the first couple of days, Bogdan asked if I would help organize a few big events for the girls – I fully committed myself. Bogdan also asked if I would be willing to buy some materials for costumes and props if we staged a performance – and of course I agreed. Then Bogdan began to share some of his ideas – he wants to have a music night – wonderful! He wants to teach the girls some new dance moves – I can’t wait! He wants my ideas – I’m interested in having an “art show” and he saved the best for last – at the end of the summer he wants to have an INTERNAT BEAUTY COMPETITION!!! The sound of my heart hitting the floor was audible….

So Bogdan asked if I would be willing to buy the prizes for this beauty competition. SURE I’m up for buying prizes… no I’m not ok with supporting a beauty competition.

So at first I though about how we would go about choosing a winner. Who would be the judges, and what would the criteria be? And then I thought about prizing – how would it work? Could we give everyone a prize for being “beautiful”? Could everyone get a prize for being the “most beautiful” in their own category? Like she has the most beautiful eyes, she has the most beautiful smile, she has the most beautiful clothes…and still I found I was uncomfortable with the whole idea. It wasn’t about the prizes, it was deeper than that…

Ok, let me give you a vision from my first week at the orphanage (oh gosh I wish I had Dumbledore’s memory sieve…) the kids are pretty much left to their own devices from June 1st till September 1st as it is summer vacation and there are no formal lessons. The kids are allowed to mill about the grounds plying with balls, taking walks, gardening or whatever else suits them. At about one o’clock various shouts ring out ЇСТИ (yeeeestayyyyy – Eat!) it’s lunch time. The first time I half expected to be bowled over by the rush of kids into the dining hall, but this wasn’t the case. The younger kids went running, but many of the older girls (13-19) were adamant that they were not interested in lunch. For the next couple days I observed the younger kids go running, and the older kids hang their heads and skulk off. When I asked them why they didn’t want to eat they looked away and told me Я не хотчу (ya neh hotchu – I don’t want to) but didn’t go into any other explanation. The next time my translator was with me, I made sure we were there at lunch time, and asked if he knew anything about this strange occurrence. Orest didn’t have to ask, apparently this had been going on for a while – they all want to be on diets!

Ok, now come back to the proposal of a beauty contest. The orphanage is removed from society. The girls are not even a little bit integrated into the society at large. They live in seclusion with older women as their teachers and role models. Their only connection to the “outside world” is the occasional field trip, and (heaven help us) television – and from that they have already gleaned that they need to be skinny and beautiful in order to be “normal”. We have accepted that this idea exists in our western culture and society, but for some reason it is so much more disturbing that this value system has infected this remote location as well.

I felt guilty that I was so opposed to an “innocent” idea that was intended to be fun and enjoyable for the girls. I realized that Bogdan only had the girls’ best interest at heart, but there was still something nagging… So after a couple hours of pondering and reflection I realized why it is that the idea of a beauty contest didn’t sit right with me: it’s not about judging and choosing a winner. It wasn’t about the prizes: sure we can give everyone a prize and make them feel good about that special quality that they possess (although part of me thinks that the girls aren’t stupid and would catch on…). I realized that my issue was much more big picture. To host an event like a beauty pageant encourages the girls to be “beautiful” in whatever way they think beauty is best defined – undoubtly their idea of what is beautiful has been propagated and poisoned by television. The fact that the people they look up to, care for and respect (Bogdan and the “Canadian Students”) are the ones suggesting this event also suggests that we hold in beauty high regard – as something to be strived for an achieved. Although the event may be enjoyable for the girls in the moment, the longer lasting life lessons that this type of event teaches them (I think) is unbelievably damaging.

Yes I am here (in Ukraine, at the orphanage) to help enrich the lives of the girls, but I am convinced that this type of event is NOT at all enriching and I would be more comfortable with not organizing an event at ALL rather than organizing this type of event. I have suggested that instead of having a “beauty pageant” we stage a talent contest, or an art show that focuses the girls on attaining skills rather than striving for “beauty”.

Am I just a stick in the mud? (I'd love to hear from you....)


Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Travellers Bond

Travelling alone is a challenge. It takes a while to get accustomed to new surroundings, to learn and be proficient in a new language, and to start to feel like one is at home. For me the hardest part of travelling alone is not having someone to share the experience with. Perhaps this is a product of me being an extrovert – but I find that I am uninterested in even the most glorious of sights and experiences if I must witness them alone. For me the richness of an experience comes from the richness of my company. Every time I venture to a new location, or historic sight or have a new experience here I can’t help but feel nostalgic about people whom I care about and how much the experience would mean to them.

In my experience as a traveler, and with friends who have travelled, people seem to make friends on their voyages – and not just friends for the voyage, but deep and long lasting friendships that transcend borders and barriers. These friendships are formed on the bases of shared experiences, and it is these shared experiences that act as the super glue that bonds people together. I am convinced that we are initially moved to make friendships so that we can share our experience with people we care about, and then we are compelled to maintain these friendships because of the secret treasures that these friendships represent.

My journey so far here in Ukraine is no exception to this idea of the Travelers Bond. I have been very lucky to share my journey with three wonderful people from Saskatoon : Christina, Sean and Mike. Unfortunately their stays in Ternopil are now over – Christina returned 2 weeks ago, Sean left yesterday, spent a night with Felix (a Toronto Layover) and is now heading back to Saskatoon, and Mike is hanging out in Lviv with family for two weeks and then heading home. And now after spending seven and a half weeks in their company, I am finding myself missing them in very specific ways…

What I’ll miss about Christina:
Christina was probably the most Ukrainian out of the four of us. She was raised in a Ukrainian household, with Ukrainian parents and grandparents who were determined to hang on to their cultural roots. Christina added a wonderful dynamic to the group because she knowledgeable about the country, the people and the culture. She knew where we should go and what we absolutely HAD to see – in fact it was because of her that we were finally able to go to the Carpathian Mountains as a group. Christina was interested in making the most of her visit to her “homeland” and that excitement and interest was definitely transferred to the rest of us. Chrstina was invaluable to all of us because she had the greatest command of Ukrainian language and was able to read us menus, and communicate with locals to ensure that we were taken care of. Christina had a way about her that made me want to always highlight the positives in every experience. I will miss Christina because she got me excited about being Ukrainian for 4 months. I wish her all the best in her studies and future….

What I will miss about Sean:
Sean is an interesting character who spent a lot of time on this trip sick. Sean is very introverted – he doesn’t like to talk very much. He is logical and calculated – studying to be an engineer. Sean is a devoted Catholic. Sean had this blunt way about him that could be jarring: he once said “your extreme niceness freaks me out a little bit…” Sean and I bonded over opposites. Our friendship had an adversarial layer to it that got both of us going. We discussed hot topics like judgment, stereotypes, pornography, and masturbation (me being a sexuality major and him being a catholic), we discussed morals, homosexuality, politics, abortion, birthcontrol and almost ever other possible controversial topic we could get our hands on. We disagreed on almost everything, but accept for one single occasion where the claws came out a little bit (and mainly just due to being hot and cranky, rather than being overly emotional about a topic), we were both able to maintain composure, observe patience, and use intellect and words rather than claws to navigate our differences. Sean taught me patience, he taught me to listen to someone with opinions so very different from my own. Meeting Sean was an interesting experience because I was given a view of life from a very very different lens than my own. Sean, unknowingly, urged me to be unjudging and accepting of difference (we disagreed on some very fundamental issues) and to see past a person’s beliefs to see more of the person. I will miss having this other perspective in my life, and I will really miss the intellectual and philosophical work out Sean gave me on an almost daily basis. I will miss Sean for the challenges.

And then there’s Mike.
Mike’s parents would be proud to know they have raised a true gentleman. On one of our outings I told mike he was a gentleman and Mike replied “I took a book out from the library on being a gentleman…. Actually I don’t think I ever returned it…” I laughed incredible hard at the irony of it all. Mike is incredibly well cultured. He is accepting and tolerant, and knows how to turn a challenging situation into a wonderful opportunity to laugh. Mike and I share deep, soul connecting conversations about live, and love and family. Although we were kind of tipsy and engaged in some random activity, I was truly honoured to be with Mike when he found out that his grandfather passed away; it was nice to be there as a friend, and an honour to be leaned on (although he didn’t do much leaning). I will miss the understanding that the end of every day must be punctuated by a beer (and usually icecream too). I will miss hunting for a Ukrainian wife with Mike; I will miss the great conversation, the sharing of musical tastes, and our shared gutter mind.

I really hope that if we are ever in each other’s cities, or even provinces, we will be able to connect once again and strengthen the travelers bond that we have created. It has been wonderful to know the three of you, and I thank you for helping to enrich my experience of Ukraine by just being with me through my journey, and allowing me to join you on yours!!

And then there was one…


Friday, July 2, 2010

Worth a thousand words....

Its been a while since I've posted, annnnnd I feel a little bit guilty! I'm working on it, promise.

In order to tied you over I am posting a bunch of links to my photo albums so you can peruse as you anxiously await my next post (hahahahahahahahahahahahah).

Here are all of the albums I"ve compiled thus far (oldest to newest)
please just click the links - you DO NOT need a facebook account to view the photos.

Kremenets/Pochiav - the mountain and the monastery:

My first visit to the Internat: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=177897&id=502267126&l=c2b8472f7e

Monkeying around at the Internat: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=179917&id=502267126&l=5866a7ba7a

Khotin and Kamianets-Podilskyi (the fortress and the Castle) : http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=180828&id=502267126&l=274a288d26

May Ternopil photos: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=177788&id=502267126&l=05c3b70acf

Carpathian Mountains: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=182814&id=502267126&l=b153c2c0bc

Pysanka (Ukrainian Easter egg) Museum (at Kociv) : http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=182870&id=502267126&l=41f5248467

Zbarash Castle: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=184193&id=502267126&l=25d45752e0

Lviv: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=185593&id=502267126&l=39b5a76229

Internat - Outside play as shot BY the girls: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=185592&id=502267126&l=c449680d74

Thats all for now... (That SHOULD keep you busy for a little while)