Settling in: flats, cars and furniture

On 30 May I took possession of my new digs. It is an apartment in Seagram Lofts, an old distillery building, literally just across the parking lot from the Balsillie School of International Affairs. This will be the shortest journey to work I will ever have had. Given that I have always tried to take jobs that allowed me to go home for lunch, it is extraordinarily close, even by my standards. I will be putting pictures up on my website. The estate agent who took care of me Dave MacIntyre also introduced me to the Kitchener Squash club.  This has been a great help in making me feel I can live here! The lofts are really fantastic space and they have been extremely well converted. The squash club does what it says on the tin, and provides a good useful space to get together with a minority who share at least one of my interests.

In June, I found myself wondering if a house might not have been a good idea since the weather has been so spectacular. But then I remind myself of the snow shoveling; look at the neighbours cutting the grass; and think about raking leaves. This is the right decision. The building even has guest room available, at a nominal fee.

I was not in a great rush to move in, just as well because there was nothing in the apartment! The previous owners left an ottoman, one chair and a lamp. Most of the furniture will come from second hand stores and there are yard sales taking place in Waterloo at this time of year. There are some things that will have to be new – the television and microwave; red wine glasses (because who manages to keep these large fragile items); and possibly the couch, on the grounds that I don’t want someone else’s bed bugs.

The new (second hand, 2010 model) car is a Toyota Matrix. I spent a fair amount of time looking and was extremely tempted to get a Kia Soul. This is the model I drove most recently from the hire company. In the end the Toyota fell in the right price range and furthermore it is a manual – or as it is called here, a stick shift. The question was: could I drive on the wrong side of the road and use a different hand to change gears. I am happy to report that I am managing.

I did not have as much money to play with as expected! There was a conversation at the bank during which I explained my cash flow issue. The clerk told me that was no problem and I could have up to $75,000 at an extremely low rate of interest, as a line of credit! I remarked that this was way too much and was clearly the reason people got into trouble. However I said, $40 000 would be nice as I could then buy a new car and furnish the apartment.

Well, we did all the paperwork. A week later the rather embarrassed bank official phoned me up and said, “I am afraid we can’t lend you $40,000.”

“How much can you lend me then?” I asked.

“Nothing, you are not eligible,” was the reply. I am not sufficiently Canadian!

As readers of my blog will anticipate I had some quite strong words with her about how to give this type of message. So the next steps have to be done on a budget but not a stringent one. Tis a bit baffling that the banks seem so surprised and unprepared for outsiders considering Waterloo has grown exponentially with Blackberry, The Perimeter Institute, Balsillie, CIGI and two lively universities which attract foreign students.

Moving in to the new place; getting the essentials; and having my own car are all big steps towards feeling more settled in Waterloo. It will take time to find a social circle and clearly I need to start joining things – could this be the time to go back to country dancing?  I am very much enjoying the yoga and the gym but those are solitary activities albeit carried out in groups. The squash club is a start. There are only about 180 members and the way it works is that we are given key fobs which give us access to the club and courts 24 hours a day. The booking is done online, and there is no charge other than the monthly membership. There is a bar but the hours of opening are extremely restricted as the manager of the club, who is also the resident professional and coach, has to run it in addition to all his other duties. So far I have only won two squash games in Waterloo, so the situation is normal. The Kitchener racquet club has among the best courts I have come across, but the one at the Perimeter Institute is spectacular.

My brother Derek came to spend a couple of nights with me. He lives in Hout Bay in South Africa and was on his way to Atlanta. We went out for a couple of meals, explored the area and went for a run together. He, poor chap, had arrived in Toronto without his bag, so I lent him kit including my running shoes, I wore my squash shoes. I think he was kind since he ran at my pace, though he runs marathons. It was good fun. We took a taxi to the airport on Sunday; Derek in search of his luggage, which he was assured, was waiting for him, then went to check in for Atlanta. I was travelling south as I was scheduled to speak at a conference in Miami, in a rather nice hotel on the beach. My room had a view of the beach but there was no surf!

The problem with such intensive meetings is that there is not much time to do other things. I welcomed a chance to engage with a whole new group of people, however, ranging from professionals in my field who work on North American issues, to really interesting pharmacists working with a managed care organization in Pittsburg. It included people from universities I have never heard of! The HIV epidemic in North America continues to grow slowly, but it is mainly located in small and frequently marginalized groups.

One interesting observation, for me anyway, is the preferred communication style in Canada and the US. In Durban, one of my mantras for staff was: always go talk to someone as the first option; if that is not possible pick up the telephone; emails should only be the last resort and then it is really important to not send them in haste. Here, it seems that people try to avoid interpersonal contact to the point where they would rather send an SMS than make a call. In many ways, I experience it as an extremely disconnected society. Of course, if you know the person, it is different. One of the excellent senior staff at the BSIA, Terry Levesque, takes the time to walk up the stairs and see who is on the third floor. It is a bit of a black hole some of the time with only three or four of the 20 plus offices occupied.

There is an increasing amount going on in Waterloo and the environs in the summer season. There are festivals and markets and many outdoors activities. My problem is that so much of what I do requires internet literacy at fairly advance levels and I am simply not there yet! One of the tasks of the Research Assistant (RA) I am in the process of recruiting will be to guide me through this. Talking of the RA, the advertisements closed in June and I hope to have someone in post by the middle of August. I am extremely grateful to the Rush Foundation for this start-up funding. It will be great to have people working with me. Wilfrid Laurier has come to the party and they are funding a programme manager post for a year, I feel we are finally picking up momentum. Meanwhile, I have set out my work plan and made firm commitments to publishers, so must deliver.

On Sunday 15 June, I ran my first ever 10 kilometer race. It was a beautiful day here in Waterloo. The run began at 9 o’clock and my current Research Assistant and I walked over to the stadium early. We registered and picked up a goody bag, which included a T-shirt, then we hung around, in my case quite nervously, until the start at . I was certain I could run the 10km, but thought it would take me at least an hour and 20 minutes. Fast runners stood at the front of the field, slow ones at the back, and I, full of optimism, went to the middle.  Kilometers four to six were difficult as it seemed endless. I really enjoyed the last two though. I had hoped to sprint round the track at the stadium to finish but it quickly became apparent that if I tried to do that I would be throwing up. I came in 494th out of the 542 people running the 10km distance. My time 1:09:30 really surprised me and I can only put the apparent speed down to running in company. So that is the first formal run. I need to do a few more then my goal now will be a half marathon, and ultimately the half at the Two Oceans in Cape Town. 


William Easterly The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor, Basic Books, New York, 2013, 394 pages.

This is a remarkably interesting book. Perhaps one of the reasons I found it so interesting was that Easterly has worked in development all his adult life, including a stint at the World Bank. He was born a year later than me and so we have read and been influence by many of the same theorists. It is interesting to reflect how, as an undergraduate in one of the first cohorts of students in Development Studies at the University of East Anglia, we were taught by young, mainly left wing idealists who believed they knew how development could be achieved. They were the ‘experts’ in the book just as much as the free market economists of the Bank and other development agencies. As Easterly points out doing development to people, no matter what your politics, seldom works. He also shows that autocracy is dangerous and generally ineffective.

JM Coetzee, Summertime, Harvill Secker, London, 2009 224 pages.

It took me a while to get into this book which is the third of Coetzee’s  fictionalised memoirs, the others being, “ Boyhood and Youth”. The style of writing is fascinating. The ‘biographer’ tells the story of John Coetzee through interviews with five people who have known him.  Coetzee clearly had a great deal of fun writing this. Interestingly most of the perspectives of women and while some of the views are damning they are generally kind. I found the relationship between the father and son to be particularly poignant, reminding me of the classic Edmund Goss book, “Father and Son”, one of my A-level texts that I have re-read on a number of occasions. It is also great to read about South Africa, in this book Cape Town and the Karoo.