(Flying around) a small world

October 6, 2016

It’s the other day and, unbeknownst to me, an old friend of mine, a Canadian we knew from Yemen way back in the day, is about to become a father.

His name is Gabriel and, funny thing, I recently mentioned him in a column about my mother. (More on that in a minute.)

Gabe’s wife is in the OR getting prepped to have the couple’s first child. The doctor comes out and introduces herself as Sue Chamberlain.

Any relation to Jean Chamberlain Froese? Gabe wonders aloud.

No, says Sue. But the two Chamberlains used to be in the same med school together. “And she’s an admirer of your Jean’s work,” writes Gabe.

Small world.


Amazing that Gabe has time to write anything. He and his wife, Kelly, are proud parents of newborn William Peregrine, who had it in mind to come into the world some weeks early (always an interesting story, the birth of a preemie) at just 4lbs and 6 oz.

It was the biggest surprise of their lives, says Gabe.

And he knows while they have a long road ahead, he also realizes “it takes a village,” something that gives him plenty of confidence.


I found out about Gabe’s new fatherhood when looking him up (remember when you used to do this in the white pages?) to thank him for a gift he gave Jean and myself those many years ago, a striking photo shot in Sana’a, one I’ve had in my workspace for all these years.

Gabe responds that he’s happy I’ve found such joy in the photo, not to mention the two hockey nets he sold me, two NHL size goals that he had a Yemeni welder make, before adding some fishing net (long ago replaced with hockey mesh from National Sports) from Yemen’s port city of Aden.

I recall the day well when he and I carried these two nets through The Old City of Sana’a, a sort of Manhattan in the Desert, the sort of place that makes you think you’re in some serious warp of time, let alone warp of culture.

Those nets are the ones that have long ago found their way to Uganda, the ones we use here behind our place for our Saturday night hockey games with the Ugandans, the games mentioned in this recent Spectator piece, one that some editor cleverly and accurately headlined “Playing hockey with Gordie and Mario – sort of”

Gabe recently read that piece, to which he responds, “Did I ever tell you that my grandmother used to play road hockey with Gordie Howe?”

Small world, indeed.


Before we leave hockey, in one of our finest African memories, Jon, my 11-year-old, and I stayed up all night to watch that World Cup of Hockey championship, the game won in oh-so-Canadian style the other evening – I will have to share more of the overseas details of this sort of attempt to catch The Big Game from the other side of the ocean (with internet, yes and no) next time.


To conclude today’s sharing, about that column on my mother. You may recall I wrote about my father for his 85th not long ago. My mother, it seems to me, deserves no less of my efforts, and no less of my thanks. So here, and below, with that remarkable photo, is that recent Spectator piece on her.



(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday,  September 17, 2016)

ABOARD KLM FLIGHT 535 TO UGANDA ✦ I’ve always envied people who could watch their mothers grow old.

My mother, I’ve shared previously, passed on when I was in kindergarten. I hadn’t seen her for two years prior to that.

Funny to think of it here, half asleep at 40,000 feet.

My mother was a nurse. But her first love was journalism. It’s there, in her writings and old photos, her with a camera slung round her neck.

So if you’ve ever enjoyed my musings in this space, you can thank my mother as much as anyone. My plan as a youth was to study theology. Instead, I fell into journalism, was baptized in its inky waters and sent into its muddy world.

My mother has also been in my travel life. My first flight was with her, in-utero, when she flew from her marriage and Canada back to her home to Berlin.

Even this landed in the papers. The old Toronto Telegram published my father’s efforts to salvage the family. With a Cold War backdrop, Ottawa was also involved.

“One man’s fight for his two children,” was the Telly’s front-page headline one summer day. My father won custody in a West Berlin court before he was given, for his safety, a military police escort to Berlin’s airport and eventual return to Canada with his children. My second international flight followed, this time in the opposite direction. It was 1968. I was barely three.

I’ve since flown at least 150 international flights covering, to my best estimates, 721,971 km. That’s like flying around the planet 18 times.

Many of these trips have involved working alongside Save the Mothers, the vision of my wife, who, as it happens, has a striking resemblance to my mother. A few are from a previous writing life, when I was a reporter for a paper owned by Sun Media, a news organization that, interestingly enough, was birthed from the ashes of the Telegram.

The circles seem to never end.

I can tell you that I’ve occasionally dreamt of my mother, that we’ve had lunch in some obscure but pleasant restaurant, talking and laughing and enjoying each other as mother and son are apt to do.

(The Jungians and Freudians would have their explanations. Mine is that I’ve never, to conscience memory, anyway, heard my mother say that she’s proud of me, like in these dreams.)

Yes, we live with our parents even when we don’t, with memories and mysteries buried deep in our DNA. Even decisions for roads (or skies) travelled are not exclusively ours.

My three children have seen their own share of airports and airplanes, having flown back-and-forth over the Atlantic their entire young lives. “They’ve had more experiences than most adults,” is how Irena, my friend from the Les Chater Y’s whirlpool, put it before we all flew off.

What’s different is that after living much of the past 15 years abroad – four in Yemen, 11 in Uganda – this family flight is our last as incoming foreign residents. Grandparents are aging. High school nears. The children need deeper Canadian roots. In 2017, my family transitions back to Canada full time.

We’ll miss it all fiercely: the offering of ourselves, the warmth and beauty of place and people, the running barefoot in the grass. It will be bittersweet, this long good-bye to Africa. Even so, this remarkable window of time, like a mother, has left its mark – a fine, celebratory mark – on each of us.

You’ve never seen my mother. Her name is Hannelore. But if she were a photograph (I doubt she’d mind the imperfect comparison), she’d be the one you see pictured here.

When we finished in Yemen, this photo was a gift from Gabriel, a Canadian anthropologist friend we knew in Sana’a, where the photo was shot. He’d be pleased to know, after these years, it’s still in my workspace.

There it is, the wind. Do you see it? No, of course not. Nobody can. All anyone can see is the effects of the wind. It’s a striking photo showing much more. But that wind. That spirit. It’s a gift. From Gabriel. Yes, Gabriel, the same name as that powerful archangel.

Maybe this isn’t by chance either.

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October 6, 2016 • Posted in
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