Surprised by Joy in the city – Belo/Mir

Joy can come at the most unexpected moment. It can be there, right around the corner, in the middle of the city during the busy evening hours. Everyone is rushing – to get to the train on time, or do their shopping after work. I’m on my way to the city library – they’ve asked for two copies of my book “Laughter in the Shadows” to place on the shelf. I’m rushing too. It’s cold, the first days of winter and my winter coat is still in the attic. Then a hint of sound, of pure melody, so out of place in the bustle. Looking in that direction, I don’t see anything to match it. Just ordinary people, but some are standing still, expectantly looking. At what? Coming closer I hear it: full pure male voices filling the cold air with a music from another world. But who’s singing? It takes me a moment to pick them out of the evening crowd. About five young men, in jeans and wool touques, stand loosely together. Nothing in their appearance shows them to be what they are – men with trained voices of exceptional quality. Belo-Mir, Minsk, Belarus it says on a sign. Cold or not, I join the few standing there, close my eyes so as not to miss a single note until it dissolves into the Schaffhauser sky. How can such powerful pure volume come from one such young man? Something so extraordinary from one so ordinary? And how can people just walk by such a heaven as if it didn’t even exist?

I bought a CD and am listening to it this morning. From the sound, the CD was cut in a large cathedral. If I didn’t know better, I would think these were older men, in tuxedos. Certainly not the young men in jeans I heard yesterday. But the music is as powerful as yesterday. So powerful I’d like to forget about work for the day!

Maybe I’ll have to get me one of those smart phones after all – then I’d have a picture and original video to go with this post!

Listen to the link with headphones – it’s worth it!

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Farming with horses – like our grandfathers did

Farming the old fashioned way. The team of four horses of Bruce Coleman's friend turn the furrow on the oat field.

Farming the old fashioned way. The team of four horses of Bruce Coleman’s friend turn the furrow on the oat field.

There’s a strange absence of sound as the plow turns the golden oat stubble under. No roaring tractor motor to shut out the wind blowing steady this beautiful fall day. Bruce Coleman’s dog trots ahead of the team of horses turning the black soil up. It’s so peaceful. This is how Bruce’s father farmed years ago in southern Alberta. This is how my grandfather plowed in his time, back in Switzerland. “We absolutely love it,” Bruce tells me when I stop to take some pictures. Farming with horses is a hobby for Bruce and his friend who plows on the other side of the small field with a team of four horses. They harvested 23 acres of oats on this field, the old way – cutting with a binder and horses, stooking the sheaves, then threshing with an old fashioned thresher. They also put up 140 acres of hay using horses. The hay and oats feeds the horses throughout the year.
Three years ago I passed this field the day before it was threshed, and wrote a blog on it, which I will repost here, from September, 2012:

No, it’s not Remembrance Day yet. But it was a day to remember.
September 22 and 23, Bruce Coleman and five or six friends held an old time
threshing bee along the Alaska Highway south of Fort St. John, B.C. Two teams
of horses hauled the oats stooks from the 14 acre field to the thresher powered
by a 1927 McCormick-Deering tractor. Besides an opportunity to put their draft
horses to work, it was a day to show how things were once done, “what this
country was built up on,” as Bruce told me.

I drove by this stooked field of oats on my way back to Westlock. I missed the threshing bee by a few hours!

My Dad on the tractor drawn binder in l964 or l965. Note the pile of bundles to his right, that will be dropped when there is enough for a stook.

Those of us swallowing huge swaths of canola into big
combines, covering a quarter of land (160 acres) in a day, forget what it often
cost to get that land into production, what it used to take to bring that crop
in. I remember well the first years on
our farm in northern B.C., in 1964/65, when my father cut the crop with a
binder (a machine that cuts the grain, gathers and ties – binds – it into
bundles that are dropped in groups of usually seven). A Russian we called
Rubberchuck manually stacked the bundles into a conical stook to dry and mature
before threshing. The stooks were taken home to a standing threshing machine
owned by a neighbour that took it to one farm after another.

As kids we worked day after day alongside our parents, picking
roots in fields that were cleared by a CAT bulldozer (earlier with axes), to
prepare the land for a seeder. I forget that too, when flying over the land
with the big machines now.

The 1927 McCormick-Deering tractor and McCormick threshing machine are set up, waiting for the work to begin. There’s even a small wooden grain cart there.

It took two days for Bruce and his friends to thresh the 14
acres. I didn’t ask how long it took for the horse drawn binder to cut the
grain, or to make the stooks by hand. The group invited lots of people to the
threshing bee, but others stopped in while driving down the highway, out of curiosity.
For some it was nostalgia of ‘better times’, for others something they’d never
seen. Some of those helping were in their eighties. “Those 80 year olds were
forking stooks!” Bruce marvelled.

The men that know how to produce crops the old way are all
turning 80 or more. “I’ve just got to hang around and learn all I can from
these guys,” Bruce says. “They’re not going to be around forever.”

Bruce and his friends have made hay on 100 acres for four
years now using horses and horse drawn equipment that he inherited from his
father. His father farmed with horses all his life, full time, near Olds,
Alberta. “It’s the way we grew up,” Bruce told me. “I really like working with
horses.” This is the first year they’ve produced grain using horse drawn
equipment. Gordon Meek of Bear Flats, towards Hudson’s Hope, B.C. used to grow
crops like that, but it’s become too much for him and Bruce’s group has taken
the project on.

I’m thankful for people like Bruce and his friends; like the
Ukrainian Village east of Edmonton (, and many others across Canada showing us
how things were done. It’s not just about nostalgia, about reminiscing of the
old times. It’s about remembering what the first settlers on our land went
through to make it arable, about giving the land with the respect due it.

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Take Time to Live!

Landed in Calgary, Alberta with the gradios Rocky Mountains in the background.

Landed in Calgary, Alberta with the gradios Rocky Mountains in the background.

My brother-in-law, who travels regularly between continents for business, once told me that he thinks most clearly in the air between two worlds. I’m in that space right now. There’s something to his saying. Switzerland already feels far away, although I only left it some hours ago. The problems that bothered me yesterday seem just as far away. My thoughts go towards my next world, Canada. What will I do with my time there, what are my priorities, what writing do I want to get done, what book promotions will I do? My Kindle is in my purse with a half-finished book I really want to get to. But I know that if I don’t utilize these moments of clear thought, before I’m deep into the next world with its people and plans, I’m doomed to frustration. Without a clear plan, I’ll just do the next thing before me, say ‘yes’ to whatever friends propose, to whatever feels good for the moment.

Several good article ideas come to mind as I think of my Swiss newspaper editors. Which connections can I use for interviews? The ideas need to be fleshed out for a good query per email. I make a list of what I can do to promote my new book “Laughter in the Shadows – stories of courage of 11 Zambian women”. There are newspapers to contact, libraries and women’s groups.

It’s a great plan. Is it also realistic? Last week I received a quote of the day advising to take time to live too. I’m going to Canada to spend time with my elderly parents and my siblings and friends. The last months have been very busy for both Robert and I. What a few days of camping by the lake would do to restore our souls! Yes, take time to live.
Now what do I do with that great plan??

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Maybe I CAN do this! Becoming an Indie Author

It's written and printed. Now to publish!!

It’s written and printed. Now to publish!!

It keeps me awake at night. It gives me a tummy ache. It’s true what they say – writing a book is the easy part. Marketing it, especially if you decide to self-publish, is where the real work starts. When I couldn’t find a publisher for my book “Laughter in the Shadows – stories of courage from 11 Zambian women”, I decided to become an Indie Author. Indie as for independent. I’m an independent woman, so that should be right up my alley. Authors such as Seumas Gallacher, mystery thriller writer, or Susan Toy, author and author promoter, offer books and tips on self-publishing made easy. Seumas is my Facebook friend, and following his posts, it obviously works for him. He says it’s about business. Maybe that’s why it’s hard for so many writers. They prefer writing to business. But a book can be ever so good, if it’s not marketed well, not many are going to read it.

I like business. So I was sure I could do this. Then why is it such a weight on me? It is one thing to sell wheat and canola, as I did while farming. But to sell one’s own written work, that’s where it becomes hard for me. Is what I wrote really worth someone’s reading it? Yes, say those who have reviewed it, and they are intelligent, well-read professional people. And still I tarry. It takes courage, folks, to promote yourself. You need a good ego and a pile of self-confidence. People think I have that, but deep inside there’s a lot of insecurity. Fear of calling reporters for an interview or asking people for a review; fear of rejection. I’m thankful to know that most writers have that. Writers that are good promoters are not fearless; they’ve just overcome that fear.

What also holds me back is the work it takes to network to get Amazon sales up. Daily Facebook posts, blog posts, twitter posts, etc. How does anyone keep track of all those people? You’re supposed to interact with those who connect with you. I don’t even have a smartphone. Do I need to get one to manage? I’m on the laptop a chunk of every day. ..

Then I started getting serious. It’s Christmas soon. I don’t want to miss that opportunity. I wrote the …. book. It’s not going to just sit there! I made a few posts. I started carrying a book with me all the time. And you know what? – people are starting to ask for it! Friends are reposting pictures of me with my book. I take one to a workshop, and people want one. This is working!
So that’s how it works. Seumas Gallacher didn’t sell thousands of books the first month either (or did you, Seumas? – after all, he’s a businessman). A snowball starts with a handful of snow, you roll it and then it becomes bigger until it becomes really big if there’s enough snow. I intend to keep this ball rolling!

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Keep our country free!

Many Swiss see their traditional values endangered with increased immigration from other cultures and belief systems.

Many Swiss see their traditional values endangered with increased immigration from other cultures and belief systems.

Locker room conversation after sports training last week: “Would you take one of them in?” referring to refugees. “You bet. Then I’d shoot them, quarter them and sell their organs.” These are good Swiss citizens, middle-class businessmen.

Conversation after a board meeting last week: “Why do these journalists have to flood us with all these pictures of little kids and drowning boys! I’m sick of it all.” “Yeah, and they’re all carrying smart phones and wearing good clothes.” These are small town, middle class women that care for the elderly. They are not hard hearted, not for their own.

Am I on the wrong page?

Have I got this all wrong? Is it true that the refugees are just people trying to infiltrate our country with their religion, meaning our hard fought for freedoms especially as women are in grave danger? Or they’re not desperate at all, but just wanting the good life we’ve worked very hard to achieve, and they want to get easily?

Tell me, am I wrong to think the majority of the people scrambling to get to the European borders are fleeing war or extremely oppressive regimes and fear for their lives? That we have an obligation to help the weak and oppressed?

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Hey, that’s a Canadian!

Robert meets his Canadian twin - two Canadian couples on bike tour through Europe.

Robert meets his Canadian twin – two Canadian couples on bike tour through Europe.

What is the Golden Gate bridge doing here, in the small Swiss village of Trasadingen? The bridge was the portal to the grape festival, with John Denver’s song “Country Roads, take me home” as the central theme. The ‘Wild West’ theme continued all throughout main street. There the typical oil well pump (actually ‘pumping’), there old railway tracks complete with tumbleweed, a piece of dessert with sand, yucca and a bleached beef skull. And a country band playing “Country Roads” and “Folsom Prison Blues”.

Grape Festival Time in Switzerland

Many parts of Switzerland are one big party at this time of year, just as the grape harvest begins. Our area, the Klettgau of Schaffhausen, has a full weekend program for the next month, with festivals going on in the various villages. The decorations are elaborate and time consuming, the programs designed to attract and entertain as many visitors as possible. All the wineries are open, wine tasting a big part of the party. The wineries in the Klettgau have won some prestigious awards for their wines. I’ve got my own favorites – one of them the “Aagne” wines from Hallau. I know I can’t go wrong when I bring someone a bottle from there.

The railway crossing in the Wild West of Trasadingen - let the grape festivals begin!!

The railway crossing in the Wild West of Trasadingen – let the grape festivals begin!!

Hey, those are Canadians!

On our bike tour of 47 km yesterday, Robert and I stopped in at the little restaurant “Räbhüüsli Münderet” in the vineyards of Hallau. The “Blanc de Noir”, a white wine from the “Weingut Atlingen”, was superb with the Raclette from an Alp. Then to Trasadingen, and later to the big Fleamarket and Village party in Wutöschingen, Germany. And the highlight of the day? Meeting two Canadian couples at Trasadingen. I saw Robert’s Canadian biking shirt coming towards us – they were biking through Europe.

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What pictures don’t say

I’m still on the Refugee thing. So are a lot of other people, I see. No wonder. The situation in Europe is getting worse by the day – both in the countries the refugees come from and the countries they are fleeing to. There are some interesting posts floating around. Here’s one on Facebook I saw today:

A Facebook picture - this is the mess a group of refugees in Hungary left behind, says the post.

A Facebook picture – with caption: The aftermath of the refugees in Hungary

It’s a huge mess, isn’t it. Look at the food they leave lying, all the good stuff people probably gave to them free. Unthankful messy pigs, huh? That’s the message the comment with the pictures seems to give. Maybe it’s true, at least in part. But it’s just as likely or more so that these people were on the run again, racing for a train that is going to leave right away, a truck to take them to the next destination. Maybe they were chased, who knows. We don’t. We just have that picture. Pictures say a lot, but there’s also a lot they don’t say.
Or look at this video with the sarcastic caption: “another way to say ‘Thank You’”.
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Here’s a train full of refugees that should be thankful they have been allowed into the country, and even more thankful for food and drink. Instead they are angry, kick the donated water into the train tracks, shout and demand. So why should we even take people like that in?? But we have no idea why they are acting that way. What happened before? Why are they angry? What kind of insults has already been hurled their way?
Truth is, though, whatever the background, the refugees coming into our countries are different than we are. They have a different approach to life, and yes, to garbage. The young men tend to be more aggressive than ours – both from their culture and the years of war. We don’t understand each other very well, making conflict almost inevitable. I can understand that people are afraid of the ‘invasion’. But the invasion is here. Let’s not condemn before we really know and understand the other’s motives.

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The power of Story

Rescue worker brings drowned refugee boy to shore

Rescue worker brings drowned refugee boy to shore

A Facebook Friend recently posted this picture, with a few words of empathy and ‘ohnmacht’ (German for powerlessness). The response to the post was immense. Each morning we open the newspaper to more stories of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean or suffocating in trucks coming from Eastern Europe. There are probably two main emotions evoked – ‘ohnmacht’ in the face of the desperate situation of these people and the countries they are fleeing from, and our inability to really help – or fear at the sheer numbers of people flooding our safe countries and upsetting the comfortable life we have a right to live because we are proper citizens of this country. The second response gets pretty good newspaper coverage too, as they burn the homes or prospective homes set up for refugees and parade the streets in demonstrations against the refugee policies of their government.

Those of us who feel empathy and ‘ohnmacht’ find ourselves shutting our feelings down. It’s just too much, we can’t do anything to help; the whole situation is too immense.

Then someone takes a picture like this one. It’s just one boy, drowned along with his family in an attempt to escape to a better life. Kids die in tragic ways all over the world, lots of them, every day. They die of malaria, of the effects of sexual slavery, as child soldiers, for lack of medical care. We know that. I think this picture brings all that to the forefront. The suppressed anger and helplessness, the frustration at inadequate governments and at brutal and useless wars comes to the surface when we see this boy. It’s a situation we can respond to.

One response to the post of my friend made me think – we can’t change what’s going on out there, but we can help the person in front of us today. There are things we can do. We can treat the foreigners among us with respect, dignity and friendliness. A smile goes a long ways. Those of us who have travelled and worked among a different culture can share our experiences with our friends and groups where appropriate to foster understanding. We can ask our community groups if we can help in some way.
There are refugees living in pretty well every village in Europe and most towns in North America. It isn’t an easy situation. What are your thoughts on this?

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French farmers dump manure on major throughways

Pont de Normandie one of the sites for French farmer protests

Pont de Normandie one of the sites for French farmer protests

Tuesday, July 21. The Pont de Normandie is a beautiful piece of engineering, and the main throughway from the port city of Le Havre southwards. It’s rush hour. We’re lucky, we’re on the northbound lane. Is that an accident ahead on the southbound one? It’s not. It’s three big tractors with trailers filled with manure, standing crossways over the highway on the bridge. Traffic is backed up for miles, with only one of the three lanes open. Wow. Who’s got the courage to do that, and why?
It’s French farmers. They’ve had enough of ever sinking commodity prices, especially for livestock farmers. One out of every ten farmers is on the brink of bankruptcy, I read in the papers afterwards. Desperate farmers are taking desperate measures. Last Saturday they blocked several main border crossings from Germany and Spain, stopping all trucks and forcing those carrying agricultural products to turn back. All under the eyes of the police. The French farm organisations insist the playing ground is unfair. German farmers can import cheap labour from Eastern Europe. French farmers have more stringent agriculture regulations. They want the government to do something, now.
Watch this video to get an idea of the scope of the protests: It’s in German, but you’ll get the idea.

The reasons given for the poor commodity prices especially meat and milk, are changing French diets, reduced demand from China and the Russian embargo. The French government has promised a meeting with the farmers to seek a solution. The German government has demanded French farmers to allow the free flow of goods into France. It’s hard to know how much, if anything, will really change for the French farmers, but I admire their courage.

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Refugees in Ventimiglia dampen my holiday mood

The tourist town of Ventimiglia makes the news globally as refugees camp on its beach.

The tourist town of Ventimiglia makes the news globally as refugees camp on its beach.

We’re in holiday mood, as are probably many others driving this freeway. The coastline of the Italian province of Liguria, next to the French border, is a continual range of rugged wild hills running to the sea. Fishing used to support the small towns and villages squeezed into the intermittent deltas along the Mediterranean. Today tourism pays the majority of the bills. The beaches are full, with people soaking up the sun, or seeking the shade of colourful umbrellas. The last rocky beach touching the French border, by Ventimiglia, is not full of tourists though but of refugees.

The road from Ventimiglia to France is free and open to everyone - except to the refugees camped on the beach and in the railstation.

The road from Ventimiglia to France is free and open to everyone – except to the refugees camped on the beach and in the railstation.

It was in the newspapers just before we left home, how the French authorities were refusing hundreds of refugees in Ventimiglia access to France. The day we passed by the town, on June 20, the Swiss newspaper, the Tages Anzeiger, wrote that 170 refugees were camping out along the waves, 110 of them Muslims. About 600 others were held at the town’s train station, taken care of by the Red Cross. The refugees came across the Mediterranean on boats, from the war torn countries of Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and the Ivory Coast. They’d escaped the dangers of their countries, endured the gruels of an ocean crossing to get to a place where no one wanted them. Another Tages Anzeiger report from June 12 stated that within a week 1,439 illegal refugees tried to pass the French border. 1097 were sent back to Italy, which is struggling to deal with the masses pouring onto their beaches. The Italian government is demanding that the other EU states come to their aid. No one denies they need help, but there is no consensus on how that should look. Rising right wing groups all over Europe are pressuring their governments to put a halt to more immigration.
My holiday mood diminishes as I think of these people down on the beach and in the train station. What made them leave their country at such perils? What did they think, what was promised them, would await them in Europe? Probably not this.
We never do see a border crossing along the freeway. Just that the signs are now in French, not Italian. Monaco comes soon after Ventimiglia. It reminds me of driving down one street in Nairobi, Kenya some years ago. On one side were big expensive houses, on the other side was a slum. That close. And that far away.
We drive on, through the Grand Canyon of France, and bike through the lavender fields. The warm perfumed air drives any thought of refugees far away.

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