Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The Christmas Story of Hope and Home

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, December 7 2016, by Sara Jewell

Saba, Tarek, Zed, Rina and baby Reem in their Amherst, NS, home.

Deep inside the annual frenzy to buy and shop and give-and-get, deep inside the music blaring at every store, there is a story. In that story is the reason for this season we call “Christmas”. And it’s a universal story, one more of us can relate to than we realize.
Because it is the story of family, of a long journey into unfamiliar territory, and of the life-changing birth of a baby.

Last February, Tarek and his wife Rina arrived at the Halifax airport with their daughter, now five, and their son, now three. They came from Syria via Jordan, where they had been living for four years after fleeing the civil war in their homeland. Rina’s mother and sisters are still in Syria; her father and brother are dead while a second brother is missing. Tarek’s family is now scattered throughout the Middle East trying to rebuild their lives.
In Jordan, Tarek and Rina were refugees and not supported the way Canadians have welcomed and helped them. They received only coupons for food. Tarek, a mechanic, could not work in Jordan; if he was caught trying to earn money for his family, he would be thrown in jail or sent back to Syria. Their daughter, Saba, was born in Syria, while their son, Zed, was born in Jordan; that country refused to issue a birth certificate for him because his parents were refugees.
A family without a home, a baby without a country.

Sitting in their living room in Amherst, using a translator, Tarek described arriving in Canada this way: “I felt human again.”
The story buried deep inside our cultural Christmas of Black Friday sales and mall Santas and elves on shelves is a story about home, about belonging, about being a citizen.
Tarek and his family first settled in Parrsboro, a community that embraced and assisted them. Soon after they arrived, however, Rina became pregnant and it was difficult from the start; the doctors thought she might give birth two months prematurely so they moved closer to the hospital.

Through the translator, Rina said the health care she receives here is much better than in Syria or Jordan. Her biggest struggle, and also for her husband, is language. Imagine you are pregnant and only speak Arabic while your doctor and nurse only speak English.
“Most of the time I understand but I can’t say it back,” Rina explained. “I want to learn more English so I can understand what’s going on with my baby.”
Fortunately, the baby held on for the full term and was delivered by C-section a month ago.
“Our little Canadian girl,” Tarek called her. The implication is huge: this newborn daughter, named Reem, is a Canadian citizen. She is a citizen of the country in which she was born, in which she will grow up in safety and prosperity. She is home.

A baby is born and it is a time of joy. Looking at her tiny features, her little fingers and cheeks, we are filled with hope and we pray for peace so that she grows up safe and healthy. There is such love for a sweet little Canadian baby with thick dark hair, whose first words will be both Arabic and English.
This is the true meaning of Christmas, this story of hospitality and home, of welcome and acceptance, of being human.  

Friday, December 02, 2016

The First Snow

Why is it we need to post photos of the first snow every year?
Every year this happens. There is a first snow. Why is this more dramatic, more compelling than rain -- or the first leaves to turn red or even the first snowdrop?
Well, maybe not the first snowdrop. The first appearances of spring flowers are pretty special.
But there's something about snow...

Like last year, the ground did not freeze before the snow arrived. Under the heaps of heavy, wet snow, the ground is saturated with water. After such a dry summer! Amazing. And as I type this, there are long drips passing by my window as the snow on the roof melts in the drizzle. Everything is slushy, everything is muddy. It's a mushy, mushy marshmushy world.
Snow and rain. Say what you will about mild weather, I prefer my winters cold and snowy. This stuff is crap to walk in.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Crime Scene

This is Rocky.
Hello, Rocky.
We named him Rocky because he is a pugnacious little bugger. We go through a lot of squirrels here, on account of the road and their lack of evolutionary development that would stop them from dashing across the road without first stopping to look and make sure it was safe, and every so often we get one that is distinctive enough to be named.
Rocky is so named because he's quite vicious with the blue jays and mourning doves at the feeder. While other squirrels are content with jumping into the feeder and scattering the birds then sitting there chattering at them, Rocky lunges at them and often manages to pull feathers out of their butts. If you look closely at the top photo of Rocky sitting on the feeder, you'll see feathers opposite him.
Interestingly, he does not try this when the chickens are standing in the bird feeder (yes, I know, that's not really where chickens are supposed to be). 
Our deck is now covered in both chicken poop and butt feathers.
Come visit. We're delightful.

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Classic Writing Utensil

I took this photo at Tidewater Books in Sackville, NB, yesterday, after the reading and signing, during the Customer Appreciation event in store. The sticker caught my eye for two reasons: It says "Autographed Copy", which is happily quaint, but more significantly, there is the image of a fountain pen on the sticker.

For many, many years, during high school and university, I wrote with a fountain pen. Not a quill and ink pot but a Sheaffer fountain pen that used ink, blue and black, labelled "Classic Catridge Ink". Little plastic tubes I dropped into the body of the pen and when I screwed the nib back on, it pierced the plastic and ink flowed.
I just checked a box of odds-and-sods writing pieces sitting on my shelf: I still have the pen and was surprised to see I still have cartridges.

I loved writing with that fountain pen. And it reminds me of another loss, a loss I noticed the other day.
There is no longer a writing bump on my right ring finger (for some reason, I never learned to hold a pen on my middle finger). For as long as I have been writing, I have had that bump there. In the past five years, I've done most of my writing on a computer and I rarely have time, or take the time -- unfortunately and regrettably -- to write pages and pages a day in my Hilroy spiral notebook (also a staple writing equipment of years and years). So the bump has faded away.
Just as I stopped using a fountain pen.

But after recording an interview for a program on CFTA community radio, the host and I were talking and a favourite poem of mine came up. When he wrote down his email address so I could send him a copy, he used a fountain pen.
Then on Sunday, I see this sticker on the cover of my book.
And now I find my old fountain pen, along with some ink cartridges.
I owe my dear friend Colleen in Cobourg a letter. I think I'll write her a long letter, in thick blue ink, that will make the barest remains of the writing bump on my finger swell up with pride.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Go to the Field

The other day on Facebook or Twitter or maybe even Instagram, I saw a statement: "Take a break from social media, do some self care, spend time doing what you love."
That's how anxious and angry, uncertain and uneasy we are these days, fear contagious, hatred contagious, love working harder than ever and that is draining, you know? We have to be reminded to stop looking, stop reading, look up, look out, go talk to someone, find someone to wrap your arms around. Feel a heartbeat, touch warm skin, remember who you are and why you are here.
So this is my break from social media -- to the field, to the river, to the sky.
In my Field Notes book, I quote Mary Oliver poems in a couple of the essays, and here is another one, for today:

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is exactly what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
~ Mary Oliver

Back in the summer of 2006, when I came down to my family's summer house on Pugwash Point because my mother had cancer, my parents' dog had cancer, and my Pugwash Point friend Diana had cancer, I taped this poem by Wendell Berry into the opening pages of my scrapbook of what would turn out to be a life-changing six weeks.
I've been thinking of this poem a lot lately, and I'm sure many naturalists and outdoorsy types and country people have been searching it out as well these days. Or if not consciously doing so, perhaps simply seeking the fields and the water and the sky in their own version of this poem:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
~ Wendell Berry

These are the days for wind and rain, for fields and marsh, for clouds and the rays of the sun reaching down from the sky, searching, seeking, attempting reflection. The ground is muddy, heavy with water, impenetrable. I won't quote Leonard Cohen but you know the line about how the light gets in. We are all out there, walking through the fields, looking for the cracks.

As I type this, the clouds are greying up. I've lived here in the country long enough to know how the sky changes when snow is coming. A change in the weather is about to happen. It's going to get cold, finally. The pond will freeze and I will do something I've never done here, in the country, in the field, before. My hope is there, in the ice.

Friday, November 18, 2016

In Conversation With...

My first TV interview for Field Notes on Thursday, November 17

It's fortunate that I've been the CTV Morning Live correspondent for Oxford since 2013, and that I did two interviews on behalf of the Alzheimer Society for its annual conference and annual walk, because it meant I could walk onto this familiar set and know the people in the studio. Cyril and Alyse and Heidi are always happy to see their guests, I'm sure, but for my first TV interview, this made a big difference for me, I think.
This TV appearance mattered so much, I wanted to do well.
Heidi is friendly and welcoming and so easy to talk to, it was just like a conversation in a living room. I'm pleased with how the interview went, although everything now is a learning experience and this time I learned I need to complete my sentences! The more I talk about this book, however, the more easily and concisely my answers will come. The blind date will be a story I tell again, I'm sure, and the reference to the chicken hat...hmm, that was unexpected! 

Here's the link to the interview:

Not to mention, I was thrilled to be wearing my lucky T-shirt from My Home Apparel in downtown Truro. I love this T-shirt, which is made in Truro by Stanfield's, and I certainly appreciate that 5% from every sale goes to support initiatives in Canada to end homelessness.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Rural Kindness Day, Every Day

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, November 16, 2016, by Sara Jewell.
Celebrating with Mary Purdy after she won the gift basket at Sunday's book launch.

I’m writing this in a fog of exhaustion, elation, humility and thankfulness.
In other words, I’m blown away by the support from friends and readers in Cumberland County.

This past Sunday, we celebrated the publication of my book, Field Notes: A City Girl’s Search for Heart and Home in Rural Nova Scotia, with the official book launch in Pugwash.
This is my first book so it was the book launch I’ve always longed for but it turns out, the celebration itself, with sixty people in attendance, was beyond my wildest expectations.
It came at the end of a difficult week for some of us who didn’t want Donald Trump elected president; who have mixed-race family in the United States and are now worried about them; who believe so deeply in the power of love and kindness and justice that we can’t bear the stories of intolerance we’ve been hearing.
It came after Remembrance Day, our most important commemoration, which reminds us of who gave their lives for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and just plain freedom of existence.

It was a difficult week because it reminded me that several years ago, someone referred to local Muslims from Lebanon as “Pakis” and I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say but I also knew nothing I said would change his behaviour or his attitude. It bothers me that I’m not good at speaking up to defend people, especially people who are now my friends.
I write from a position of white, middle-class privilege so I don’t know what it’s like to be truly persecuted, disenfranchised, and afraid. Yet as a woman, I know what it is like to choose silence over speaking out because it will be your word against his and you were raised to not cause a scene.
It was a difficult week. Then the book launch happened.
People came together to celebrate a book. Publishing is still alive and thriving!
People came together to celebrate a book about rural Nova Scotia. Rural communities are still alive and surviving!
Not only that, Sunday, November 13 was World Kindness Day.

So I’d like to share part of the Facebook post my dear friend Mary Purdy wrote on Sunday evening because this, my friends, this is what we are:
What are you doing to add more kindness in your life? I was at Sara Jewell's book launch in Pugwash, and to see so many people hugging each other, beautiful. To see so many people show up in support of Sara and to celebrate her success, an act of kindness by a community. And then there was the gift basket I was fortunate to win, the delicious cookies, Sara's tears. I felt kindness and care filling the room. I feel so blessed to live in this community and to see kindness modeled in so many ways by so many people.
I am humbled and grateful for the support of this community and this county, which, happily and hopefully, includes Muslims. This is the place I’m proud to call home. And I mean that from my heart.