Allan Family Reunion 2013

Mid-June saw the first full reunion for my mother's siblings, their mother, their spouses, most of the cousins, and all the grandkids. Altogether there were 24 of us on Friday evening. It was the first time I had seen any of my maternal extended family since 1999/2000. In fact it was the first time I met one of my uncles. We gathered in Canmore for a weekend.

Pink: Women
Blue: Men
Grey: Absent

The only people missing were my grandfather (he and my grandmother divorced in the 1970s), my father (he and my mom divorced in the 1990s), my sister's partner, and two adult cousins (one of whom I have never met).

We hung out in Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise. Hanging out is a weak way of saying we strolled through shops, climbed Sulfur Mountain, walked along Lake Louise, skipped rocks on Lake Minnewanka, played games, ate food, and caught up a lot. It was a great visit and made it clear that we have to stay in touch better and make greater efforts to visit one another.

Here are our four generations:
Woodford > Allan > Robichaud > Robichaud/Demitor/Toijanen


Playlist: Summer 2013

Some new. Some not. I could listen to each of these on Repeat One for an hour. Probably longer, but I don't want to wreck my favourites.

  • Sufjan Stevens: The Transfiguration
  • The New Pornographers: Adventures in Solitude
  • The National: Pink Rabbits
  • Feist: A Commotion
  • Atoms for Peace: Ingenue
  • Band of Horses: Dumpster World
  • Calexico: Writer's Minor Holiday
  • City and Colour: The Grand Optimist
  • Mumford & Sons: Hopeless Wanderer
  • Wilco: The Art of Almost

Reflections: Seed of Hope in South Africa

My first week in Africa was spent with the wonderful Waldon family who have been in the Amanzimtoti / Bhekulwandle area of South Africa for the last six years. I knew them in Saint Albert when I was working my first job out of university at their church. Amber and I have been supporting their work which is running The Seed of Hope.

I was able to spend 4 days at the centre where I think I got a good sense of what the community is like, what the needs are, and how Seed of Hope is seeking to bring new life to the area. I should add that school was on holidays, so things probably weren't running exactly the same as they usually are.

First, the staff. Carl shared lots of stories with me about the staff who I saw working in their various areas. Most of those with hands on work were either from Bhekulwandle or nearby. They grew up in poverty and didn't have the same opportunities for education and employment (unemployment in the area is around 80%). I listened to them sing and share during staff devotions. They are both grateful for the opportunity to work and to serve God and their people. They are passionate about their work and they are not above having disputes among themselves - though they are willing to resolve matters too.

Those in positions of leadership or in volunteer positions come from the wealthier areas or from other countries. Equally passionate and seeking restoration in this very depressed area, these folks drive vehicles, generate funding, plan events, connect with the media, and help manage the centre.

In speaking to Carl Waldron, the CEO, I learned that Seed of Hope has had numerous short term mission teams visit. Some of those visiting have told him that they have seen far worse poverty and that the efforts here would probably be better used elsewhere in the world. While it's true that there are more destitute regions in the world (South Sudan or Haiti come to mind immediately), what is truly unique is the level of brokenness in the community. In Bhekulwandle there are certainly deficits in nutrition, work, educational opportunities, access to healthcare, etc. but not to the some of levels I saw in Guatemala or Malawi. What is different is the staggering level of violence against women and girls and the incredibly high incidence of HIV (this South African province alone has 13% of the world's HIV infected). On top of all this, while South Africa has emerged as a leader on the continent economically, this is one of the very forgotten regions so there is little by way of local government support.

While I was there I heard stories that still haunt me today. I won't share them online, but I have no qualms expressing that this part of the world is one of the darkest, most needing of our and God's love.

So, what are they doing to reach out to the people in Bhekulwandle? Three different spheres of influence, all of which are applied with a deeply personal touch which builds relationships:

  • skills training for adults (sewing and gardening mainly)
  • teaching life skills to children (after school programs, tutoring, counseling, leadership)
  • HIV/AIDS outreach (testing, counseling, support groups, home visits)

This is all done with a very healthy view of sustainable development: take it slow, empower the population, and build on the strengths of people you work with.

Overall, I was very impressed with Seed of Hope. I encourage you to support the organization, you can give to Hope Shares or RESCU International.


Lake Malawi

The third largest lake in Africa, Lake Malawi forms an aquatic political divide between Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique. It is also one of the deepest lakes in the world. In the middle of our 11 day stay in Malawi, we spent 2 nights in Cape MacLear which lies in the UNESCO protected Lake Malawi National Park. To get there, we had to cross the Dedza-Salima Forest Reserve which straddles a pretty decent mountain range. We descended the very windy road to a glorious view of the lake.

I'll start with the worst part as it wasn't too bad. The dozens of guys hawking trinkets on the beach were almost intolerable. I stepped out of our resort gate onto the beach and within five seconds I had 10 guys around me. I guess I stink of money.

One of the first guys to approach me though was Flamingo. He ran a little lake tour boat (albeit expensive) that takes people to West Thumbi Island to see the fish and birds. He hired him to take us just after lunch.

Lake Malawi is home to the largest variety of cichlids, one of the most popular fresh water aquarium fish. There isn't an exact figure for the number of genus in the world, but Lake Malawi holds somewhere in the vicinity of 900 to 1000 of these little colourful fish.

Ken and I snorkelled for about an hour amont the rocky shore of West Thumbi Island. It was great to be in the water again - I hadn't done serious snorkelling since '95-96 when I was in the Marshall Islands. Wendy lent me her underwater camera.

The second half of the trip took us to the east side of the Thumbi where Flamingo let out a few long whistles, flung a fish high into the air and told us to have our camera's ready. Seven or eight times we watched as large fish eagles circled above us then careened over the water snatching the floating fish  of the surface of the water just a few meters away from our launch.

Later in our stay in Malawi I enjoyed some of the lake's fish: chambo (a variety of tilapia). It was decent, but I think mine was too small.

Our last morning, Ken and I took out a rough looking double kayak with very short paddles. We got pretty wet, but it was good to stretch our arms and get out onto the quiet lake. We headed along the cape towards Domwe Island, but ran out of steam about 3/4 of the way there. Plus we were hungry for breakfast.

The sunset over the lake provided a great opportunity for silhouette shots of the locals finishing up their work day.