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A holiday story

Last Monday evening I packed up the Mdantsane soccer equipment into the Goodlife duffel and three string bags. Hoisting the whole lot onto my back I made my unsteady way towards the door. As I staggered past the full-length mirror, I was startled into a spit-take: Father Christmas was staring back at me.

Now, I don’t observe Christmas. By the time I hit my mid-30s I was tired of waking up on January 2nd exhausted, emotional and penniless, so a few years back I announced to my loved ones that I was no longer going to celebrate. This doesn’t mean I’m a Scrooge. It means I am free to give gifts when the spirit moves me, even if that is in May or September or July. It means I have a bit of money in my pocket. It means I spend those final weeks of every year considering what has come before and what I will accomplish next.

In 2009 I made it halfway around the world, met amazing people doing critical work in their communities, and lent a hand. I learned that getting help is often as simple as asking. I saw the generosity of strangers and friends. And when I returned home I knew myself as part of a global community – a community of do-gooders, of soccer fans, of adventurers and storytellers. My world was both bigger and smaller, and I wanted nothing more than to reach across the ocean and connect these places.

The Mdantsane Village Soccer Kit Drive was one way to accomplish this. For me, the program was about more than providing equipment, though that was the ultimate result. I wanted to leverage the unifying spirit of soccer to do good by the teams I met in Africa and my own community. We have so much in the West. It’s scandalous, really – in my soccer league each player is outfitted with their own jersey and socks each and every season. And each and every September when the sun finally goes down on the pitch, these items become useless except as mementos. It’s wasteful and it’s a shame.

This is what I was thinking as I sat at the sideline of the dusty pitch watching the Mdantsane Mountain Birds kick their opponents’ asses in borrowed cleats. If, as we know, there are seasons worth of good, unused soccer equipment growing dusty in the closets of Toronto… and if, as we know, it is expensive to send goods from here to there and improbable that they will arrive intact if at all… then we must find another way. For me, this was not about sending money – it was about connecting two communities; it was about redistributing what is already available.

Then a remarkable thing happened: Craig told me that on his holiday trip home to Philadelphia he’d bring empty suitcases so he could fill them with cleats and jerseys. Philly is a lot closer than Mdantsane Village. A single conversation cut the task down by approximately 12,800 kilometres. Now we only had to get the goods to Philadelphia. And then another remarkable thing happened: my friends Tedd and Garry offered to drive the equipment to Philly during their holiday trip to New Jersey. Suddenly all I had to do was the collection. And then the remarkable things began to tumble over other remarkable things. My request was met with such enthusiasm that I was overwhelmed by the response. Players that I only see during the summer travelled out of their way to meet me. My entire summer team agreed to donate jerseys so I could ensure the Mountain Birds would receive a full matching kit for themselves. And even now I am receiving calls asking if it’s too late and when the next Drive will happen.

So when I saw myself in the mirror with a bag of presents on my back I snapped a picture. I felt “the joy of giving”, an emotion that’s been sullied for me by years of cynical exploitation. I also felt thankful and proud and connected – and ready to begin organizing the next Kit Drive.

That evening I met up with Tedd and handed over the parcels. And this morning my phone lit up with this message: The stuff made it over the border fine. So thank you to everyone to who participated in big and little ways. I just got confirmation that the equipment is passing through Scranton en route to Mdantsane Village. See how little this big world is (and vice versa)?

Toronto to Mdantsane Village via Scranton

Toronto to Scranton. Next stop Philadelphia, then Mdantsane Village, South Africa.

Happy holidays, everybody.



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Whatcha been up to?

Wow, I’ve really missed everyone in the past week or so. How are you all? How come you never call any more?

I am super stoked to have some things to report on. After my last post I got a lot of exceptionally thoughtful responses to the trip and the blog. Many of them were of the “so, when’s the book coming out?” variety which was very pleasing to my ego (and also, stop pressuring me!). I have been spending a great deal of time since then dissecting what I have published here, what I have still in the private reserves, and what it all adds up to. I’ve also been researching publishers, agents, and editors (and if anyone out there has useful input for this, please get in touch). In other words, yes, I am on it.

Most nights I’ve been up into the witching hours slogging my way through some pretty dry how-tos about writing book proposals. As well, on the authors’ advisement I’ve been reading “the competition”, an exceedingly strange exercise. I recommend that everybody take a moment to think about who, in their field, they would consider to be their own competition. I’ve decided that I am the queer, female bastard child of Bill Bryson, Pete McCarthy, and Robert Sedlack (I know, I know, you don’t know who he is – but you will!). Yes, I am totally aware that there are no women on my list but that’s because I have not yet discovered that rare female travel writer whose work is not consumed with discussing how she juggles the twin imperatives of family and adventure. I’m not saying she’s not out there but I haven’t yet met her. So let’s just say that Joan Jett and Margaret Cho were at the conception and leave it at that. Or something. Really – it’s hard not to feel like a complete lunatic egomaniac even committing this to the page but according to you all, my “willingness to expose myself as a real, flawed human being” (read: blatant disregard for my own dignity) is one of the reasons you read.

I must confess that all this being writerly has had an impact on my appearance. Like a consumptive takes to her bed, so I have taken to my sweatpants and cardigan. (I knew it was serious when I looked down and saw words on the tissue into which I’d just hawked.) The picture would be complete if I could only grow a beard! I am, however, allowing my hair to grow into  an unruly thatch that kicks out over the tops of my ears in a fetching way that proclaims (ever-so-casually), “I am an artist…”. I guess you’d call that “making ‘do”. Ha ha.

For such a fine writerly specimen, you may be saying to yourselves, you sure haven’t been doing much writing. And to that I would say this: No need to be snippy. Also, I had to “regroup”, as they say. It became obvious that when the wild Kennaway affair came to an end, so did the main storyline of this blog. Losing the backdrop of warthogs, puff adders, and the thrumming threat of violence also took some of the wind out of my story-telling sails. After all, posts entitled “Rearranged Apartment: Domesticity Edition” or “Noodle won’t stop looking at me” weren’t likely to delight the readers, eh?

Nonetheless, I do have news! I have continued to be in touch with many of the people I met in Africa, and to work on projects begun while I was there. Most pressingly, I will be collecting gently used soccer equipment over the next few weeks to get to Philly in time for Craig’s Christmas trip home. He will pack the stuff back and redistribute it there, thus bypassing the interminable Customs delays and mysterious disappearances of goods. So, would all you Toronto-based soccer-loving folks take a peek into your closets (just brush the skeletons aside) and check for extra kits and equipment? More to follow on drop-off times and locations, or you can always contact me directly to make arrangements. Non-local people wanting to contribute should also contact me directly and we’ll see what we can make happen.

I hope to hear from you all soon, whether it’s to hook me up with some gently-used jerseys or to tell me that my writing is less like Michael Palin’s and more like, well… Sarah Palin’s.

Must dash now – the kettle is whistling.


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Mi casa es su funhouse

Nothing like writing out instructions for a house sitter to make you question if you live like normal people.

Exhibit A:

Sometimes, especially in the evenings, Mendoza will get a toy or some clothes and drag them around the apartment, crying out. I don't know why he does it, but I usually just call back, What is it? Bring it! until he drops a sock or fuzzy mouse at my feet.

Many evenings Mendoza will get a toy or some clothes and strew them around the apartment, crying out. I don't know why he does it, but I just call back, What is it? Bring it! until he drops a sock or fuzzy mouse at my feet.

Exhibit B:

I have a George Foreman Grill that I use almost daily. I keep it in the oven, so if you want to use the oven make sure you take the grill out first.

I keep my George Foreman Grill in the oven.

Other evidence (not pictured):

The cats like to drink out of beer steins (particularly the Hooters one), so make sure they’re always topped up.

Morning is a time of uncontainable excitement for Noodle. He will try and wake you in a variety of ways, which historically have included:  raking nails across the leaves of my bedside book to create loud fan effect; rattling the balsawood garbage bin against the side of the dresser so I am woken to tribal beats; crawling on my chest and purring frantically on both the inhale and exhale while training his eyes on my lids for any movement at all; and my personal favourite, jimmying the hallway door open and slamming it shut repeatedly until I have to get up even if only to put a pillow in the door jamb.

Do not, under any circumstances, water the rubber tree. If you do it will never drain. Like a reverse and slackened black hole, water will leak out of the bottom for days.

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Unstable Mother Bag, Redux

By popular demand, the Unstable Mother Bag (and child bag), first mentioned here:

Unstable Mother Bag, Unencumbered

Unstable Mother Bag, Unencumbered

Unstable Mother Bag, Encumbered

Unstable Mother Bag, Encumbered

Note how in the second image, said encumbrance causes marked instability.

(Now perhaps my mother will quit her indignant ruminating: “‘Unstable Mother Bag’… What’s THAT supposed to mean?”)


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