Of wedding and remote Ontario

This post was begun at Bark Lake in Northern Ontario. According to Google Maps the journey should take about four hours from Waterloo, and indeed my GPS (sat nav) was of the same opinion. I was invited to attend the wedding of Katharine Hagerman and Hani Morsy. The connection and reason for the invitation was that she spent time at HEARD, in Johannesburg and then Cape Town. I was invited some time ago and as I was in the country, it took place over the Labour Day long weekend, and before the term had started, it was an excellent opportunity to get out of Waterloo and share a celebration.

The Bark Lake leadership Centre, is as the name suggests, on a lake and comprises a mix of accommodation and facilities. I was in one of the cabin buildings with ensuite bathrooms, others slept in bunkhouses. It is a long way from the main road, which in turn is off the beaten track when it comes to the small towns and villages in that part of the province.

I set off feeling reasonably confident of my and the GPS’s ability to get there, but I guess I should have been more realistic. When I entered the postcode for the centre I could see that it would take me down a dirt road and 30 or so metres into the middle of a lake. It was in roughly the right place so I decided to follow, with hope if not faith. As I drove down roads that became ever smaller and more rutted, my confidence began to dwindle. Fortunately there was a couple in a truck behind me (the only other vehicle I saw on this road). I stopped put the emergency lights on and went back to seek guidance.

The end result was that we both agreed we had been led astray by our GPS’s, but the chap driving had an iPhone and was able to get clearer directions from this. It turned out I was about half an hour away from the camp. My relatively inept GPS also needs updating. I drove along a major two lane freeway north of Toronto while the GPS freaked out as this road was not in its data bank! The main thing was that, although the journey took nearly six hours, I still got there with plenty of day light. Stupidly driving back I ended up with the sun in my eyes for the last part of the journey again.

The first evening the guests assembled for a braai. On the afternoon of the second the wedding was held, followed by a reception. All in all it was a really well organised event with lots of people gathered from all over the world. Hani and Katherine met in Cairo so there was a small Egyptian contingent. This is the first Canadian wedding I have been to and it was interesting to see how the different cultures operate. At the dinner I sat with a Canadian couple who have been living in Nairobi for over 20 years, and a lunch there was a woman who was born in Mozambique, where her parents had gone to work in support of the revolution in the early 1980s. This cohort has taught me that people can have an international perspective, even in the more remote locations.

The weather over the past few weeks has been absolutely glorious. Warm and very sunny, indeed the Ontarians are talking about facing a drought. This is a long way from the drought I saw less than two months ago in northern KwaZulu-Natal and Swaziland, but by local standards it is dry. A real danger is forest fires and the dials mounted beside the road show the highest level of awareness.

It was an interesting couple of weeks in Waterloo. I have been thinking about and planning for the teaching in the winter term. When I got back my teaching evaluations were presented to me, and I have no clue what these scores actually mean. The headline is that they are OK. To a large extent we are given the chance to do what we believe is appropriate and one of the courses I am teaching is the Interdisciplinary Disciplinary Seminar, which is a ‘professionalisation’ programme. It this gives me a chance to cover a great deal of ground, and teach the skills I wish I known when I started my career. It has also allowed me to revisit the work of many of the academics who were influential on my development. I have been writing a book chapter and had a quick look at the work of Ivan Illich, Paulo Frere and Richard Wilkinson. I do need to develop my core reading list for all students.

More importantly, if I am to survive in the city and position I need to get more people involved in my work. One way to do this might be to develop a laboratory or incubator to encourage, particularly students, to work with me. I am going to have to think about this a bit more and see if there are ways to get it going. Obviously this will have to be related to my interests, but it could still be a very broad church. I need to know how to motivate people to join it. We have our lecture series going; the salons are happening so these things are possible. The sign of success, in the long term, will be to see other people picking up things and running with them.

Back in Waterloo the construction of the light rail system continues to disrupt the city, and if the truth be told, the region. There is slow but visible progress. Interestingly the local media reported that the railcars delivery would be delayed. Apparently the Canadian manufacturers are behind schedule. What was most telling for me about this was that it was just reported and there was no comment on it!

I have had a great deal of luck in my travelling. When I came over a couple of weeks ago I was given a business class seat, I had been thinking about using miles or even money (although not that seriously) so this was a nice win. The flight from Amsterdam left at 17:30 and got into Toronto at 19:30 (both local times), so it was a period of travelling, and as usual it took me a few days to adjust.

On the recent long haul flights I have found myself sitting next to Aryans: a large very overweight German on one and a small Austrian on the other. We followed the ‘travelling on a plane and when to talk’ protocol, which is only do so towards the end of the flights. Both were slightly older than me – but only by a few years and so our ‘lived experience’ was not that different. We shared similar views on politics: ‘the British decision to leave Europe is a disaster for the UK’, although they expressed the view that the European project is not working as they would like; and ‘electing Donald Trump in November would be a disaster, but could possibly happen’.

There is no doubt the world is changing and not all the changes will be good. There are too many people competing for limited resources, but huge inequality in distribution is a major factor leading to unrest, migration and violence. We watch with horror the violence in Syria and the tide of migrants from North Africa, who are, on occasion, literally washed up on the shores of Europe. Both my travel companions were concerned and worried, and interestingly, although they had partners, neither had children so the concern is more altruism than genetic.


On the flight to Toronto I watched a real action film called London Has Fallen. This was premised on the idea of a major terrorist attack on the city while the US president and numerous other heads of state were in town for a British Prime Minister’s funeral. This was really very good, not least because of the special effects but also because there were recognisable parts of the city. However as the credits showed the dangerous stuff was filmed in an East European capital (Check which). I have yet to go to the cinema in Waterloo on this trip. A few weeks ago Douglas persuaded the family to sit and watch Dad’s Army and while I was initially skeptical, it was actually good fun.