I returned to the UK in mid-August after spending just under three weeks in Canada. As I said in my last posting I did not think I would be able to travel, as I had Covid. Fortunately, I started testing negative a few days before the scheduled departure. It was an interesting trip. The first part was to attend the International AIDS Economics Network (IAEN) meeting ahead of the International AIDS Conference in Montreal. I then travelled down to Waterloo for 10 days. It was great to reconnect with many friends.
There were changes and sights that really shocked me though. In Montreal we saw a young woman attacked by a vagrant at 7.30 in the morning. She got away before we could intervene, and went to a nearby police car. When I arrived at the Kitchener station, there was a tent camp next to the railway line. The sight of tents and tarpaulins providing shelter to many people was totally unexpected. Worse was to come, I was told there was another informal settlement in, the rather special, Victoria Park, next to the first house I rented. The person who gave me this information warned that it might not be safe to go too close, a telling comment in and of itself! The formerly pristine park is home to another encampment. In South Africa it would be called a squatter camp!
The past month has been one of some introspection. This post was written over the Easter weekend. On the Saturday I went to the Kitchener Farmer’s Market. When I first came to this dorpie (the Afrikaans word for a small town), I used to go every Saturday. I now manage with a visit every two weeks, the advantage of having a huge freezer (which came with the apartment, by the way) is manifest.
I have a very predictable route. I park in the underground area, go up to the level where the stalls are, and then follow a strict path. The first person I visit is Pat from Hamilton. He sells a range of olives and pickled vegetables. In my opinion his most interesting product is the olives stuffed with garlic. They are a real assault on the taste buds. We have got to know each other over the years and so first names are used. From there it’s a quick turnaround and across the aisle to the egg stand. This is run by an older couple who do not seem to have much of a sense of humour. I have yet to see them smile. If you can visualise the famous painting ‘American Gothic’ you will get the picture.
I then go to the fishmongers, right next to the butcher I use. Interestingly enough on Saturday they had none of the fish varieties that I would choose, they said their suppliers were out of stock. The fish I enjoy most when I am in Geneva, or indeed anywhere in Switzerland, is something called filet de lac, literally fish of the lake. I believe that this is caught in one of the great Lakes and now flown from Canada to Switzerland. I tried to buy a couple of different varieties to make an interesting fish stew.
It has been an interesting month in Canada. Most of February was extremely cold, in the minus numbers. However there was one day in mid-February when the temperature rose to 14°C, and again, at the end of the month, it was unseasonably warm. Up until then the ground was covered with a layer of snow, and as there were frequent falls, albeit not very much, it looked fresh and white. While it is beautiful, it makes the place looks sterile. This gives rise to a problem I had not anticipated for dog owners. One of the people in the apartment block lives on my floor. He has an excitable and energetic dog, and takes it out regularly to do its business. This means we occasionally meet, (the dog, owner and I), in the elevator. Apparently, he told me, if there are no smells, then the dog is less likely to perform. I suggested that he (the owner) could assist providing scent, this was not seen as a feasible option.
On the day that the temperature was so high, there were also the first signs of spring: amazing, jubilant birdsong. For some reason the sparrows really like hanging out on the side of the building, and in the bushes on the paths. They were chirping their little hearts out when I walked home for lunch. This reminded me of a nonsense rhyme my mother used to quote when we were children. I can’t find a definitive source for it, so I hope it is out of copyright.
Spring is sprung the grass is riz
I wonder where the birdie is
The bird is on the wing?
I always thought the wing was on the bird.
There is quite a lot of music in the town. I suggested to friends we go to the Huether Hotel to listen to jazz. I thought I had bought tickets for ‘The Tim Moher Octet’ playing ‘jazz and some “Celtic Jazz” originals with a sprinkling of favourite standards in this evening of eclectic music from funk, soft jazz, to straight ahead jazz tunes’. None of us was terribly impressed by the music. It turned out, on Monday, when I got an email saying “Don’t forget you have tickets for the Jazz Room this Friday”, that we had actually listened to ‘The Rob Gellner Tentet’! No wonder it was different from what we expected. Basically we went a week before we should have. And no one checked the tickets. Can you believe it! It was embarrassing. The Huether is no longer a hotel, but rather contains number of bars and restaurants, catering to most tastes. It is very old by Waterloo standards – parts of the building date from 1855.
Oh dear, the start of the winter term was not very promising. Even before it began I was aware that we were undersubscribed in terms of students for the Masters in International Public Policy. There should have been 15 domestic students plus a number of ‘African Leaders of Tomorrow’. For various reasons that are beyond my understanding we ended up with just nine Canadian students, fortunately there is one international and four African students, which increases the cohort size to fourteen. In my special course IP641: Economic Policy in an Interdependent World: The Case of Health, HIV and AIDS and Other Epidemics, there are just seven students. The Inter-disciplinary Seminar has the full complement but that is hardly surprising since attendance is compulsory.
I suspect that the basic problem has been the lack of certainty about the future of the Balsillie School. The funds for the organisation are held at Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier Universities, but the Balsillie school is a partnership between the universities and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). CIGI is the landlord for the BSIA, owning the magnificent building we are housed in. The ten year agreement that governed the money ran out in November last year. We ran on a ‘steady as you go’ type of extension and are assured will be renewed in the next few days. Unfortunately all the promises in the world cannot replace a signed agreement that sets out exactly what can and cannot be done. Hopefully we will, by the time you have read this blog, have certainty as to what is going on. While we think that things will continue without too much change, we need to see the signed agreement to know that this is indeed be the case.
The one activity that began well was the salon series. These are gatherings of up to 20 people that I convene in my apartment. The idea is that there is a guided conversation with a special guest who answers questions on their topic of expertise. The first one of the year was with David Wilson, a friend of long-standing who grew up and worked in Zimbabwe, before joining the World Bank. The second was with Peter Boehm, a senior Canadian civil servant, currently engaged in preparing for Canada hosting the G-7 meeting in June 2018.
The beginning of April saw the winter term drawing to a close. My last day of teaching was Monday 10th, which as it turned out was also the last day of term. I had not realised that. A pity, because I had a panel of colleagues from the community to talk about wellbeing. The class was not all there, some having started travelling on their spring breaks. Indeed not all those that attended were mentally there either – they were thinking about deadlines, assignments and perhaps even holidays. When, the previous week, the second course I taught ended, and the class went to the pub, I was very touched that they invited me to join them. I should have gone.
In the middle of February I greatly enjoyed sitting in my office or my apartment and watching the snow fall. It was quite magical. In total we probably had about 10 cm, enough to cover the ground and make everything into a winter wonderland. Normally here there is a period when the ground is covered by grey snow as it slowly melts. In the corner of the parking lots there are piles of the white stuff, bulldozed there by the clearance teams. This year it warmed up from about the 18th of February and most of the snow disappeared very rapidly. I woke one morning to see a digger loading the snow into large trucks in our apartment parking lot. It is taken away and dumped somewhere. There must have been at least six or seven loads. It was probably necessary to do this, because the piles take a very long time to melt, and the snow was heaped in the guest parking. It provided an insight into the workings of Canada in the winter, and perhaps even into the cost, as I’m sure this service will appear on the bill.
It is most unusual for the first of the month of the year to have come and gone without my having prepared a new blog. I’m not quite certain what happened. I can only think it was a combination of the pressure of teaching and preparation which distracted me. There is quite a lot to report, both events of the past month and ones for the next few months. I have been, and will continue to be, busy.
When we went to Nova Scotia in August it was with enthusiasm and ignorance. There were lots of people ready to encourage us in our folly here in Waterloo. How cool it would be, what to do, etc.
Those three land masses: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island look so small on the atlas, so extraordinary, so outward-bound. What kind of people can survive there and how? The ragged coastline means fishermen and sailors. We knew that lobster and other crustaceans is a major export and that it attracts tourists, though this was a bit of a deterrent to one vegetarian visitor.
The winter here seems interminable: for the last week of February we had record cold temperature. On one memorable day, schools were cancelled as it was considered to be too icy for the students and, perhaps more importantly, the school transport. This is beginning to become a bit depressing. Outside the school and the apartments are huge snowbanks that may take months to melt. I am beginning to grasp the reason for the phlegmatic Canadian temperament. There is very little to be done except book a short break to Florida.