Jeffrey's Ledge

Absent Minded

You need to give me my space

Before I even left Halifax, I got a day-by-day schedule of the trip trip ahead. Most of which was pretty self-explanatory (Market, Museum, Theatre with Kids, Dinner), but I noticed three days listed as ‘Lelibala’ which obviously meant pretty much nothing to me. Since my new thing is making calculated guesses and running with them rather than actually have to think about something for more than two minutes, I assumed that like the other times blocked off for Tenagne our guide in Addis Ababa, that Lelibala was just some dude who was a heck of a lot more needy. I mean, c’mon. Three days, Lelibala? Pull yourself together. We’re very busy and important.

Of course it wasn’t until I was sitting in War Child’s board room in Toronto with three hours to go before getting on a plane that someone mentioned the ‘Lelibala trip’ that I figured I might want to do a wee googley-goo before I started to look like a total idiot. (Obviously I was a few weeks too late, but hey, I could always make a good second impression.) I did a quick Google Image scan and saw cool sunken cathedrals and churches, read the intro paragraph on the Wikipedia page that mentioned cool sunken cathedrals and churches, scanned my brain for any need to dig any deeper than that, and called it a day feeling good about the fact that I’d be seeing cool sunken cathedrals and churches.

A quick two-hour flight north from Addis landed us in Lelibala the place, not the imaginary high-maintenance person, and onto a van that would take us to our new hotel. And guys, I know we’re all in agreement that I’m a calm, cool, collected, and level-headed individual, but in that van? I may have made a little bit of a scene. After about ten minutes of stunned silence, I had a bit of a word vomit: “Holy shit. This I so legit Africa that I don’t even know what to say right now”

Yep. THAT’s how I reacted to the fact that we were driving on winding dirt roads through villages of clay and grass huts while people worked on hundred-(thousand?)-year-old African farms in traditional African clothes, with goats and cows and birds and trees and mountains and all sorts of other really freaking African things that I completely forgot about after Addis Ababa convinced me that the culture shock of visiting Africa was over exaggerated. Addis was a urban centre–and an AFRICAN urban centre, but it was still more city than it was Africa. Lelibala? Now THAT shit is Africa. Seriously. I’m still so blown away by how protected people here have been in their way of life that I’ve gone all inarticulate and MTV generation and junk. No really…we had to stop the van because a herd/harem/pack/barrel of monkeys ran across the road.

We did end up seeing eleven of sunken stone churches and it was incredible They’re some 900 years old and were chiseled out of solid rock over the course of 25 years so that people here wouldn’t have to do the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and so that the churches would be protected from olden day pushy Muslims. I might be oversimplifying. We Indiana-Jonsed our way through 20-foot underground tunnels where you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face or that rock that just punched you like a fistful of Africa, we saw 15th century paintings, a pile of over 5,000 mummies of people who worked on one of the churches, and all sorts of other cool business that will make my religious symbolism researching dad really mad that I got to see it first.

And because War Child probably assumed that while I can play rugged, I have my limits, we got to come home to this stupidly incredible hotel with a view so mind-blowing that you just want to write poetry, or learn to paint, or do yoga. I actually did do yoga…I’m so balanced and centered you don’t even know. Except before I got balanced and centered, I geeked out over how awesome the place was.

The day that won’t be topped

Today was the big one – that day where it all clicked. I get that some of you might be skimming through the Ethiopia stories if you usually come here for sarcasm, alcoholism, gay jokes, and suburbia and that’s absolutely fine. I get it. All I ask is that you bear with me for this one post and really let it sink in. Today was the day that I caught myself standing in a circle of incredible kids, talking to the people who are helping them rebuild their lives, and trying not to be the overemotional white guy in Africa that I always knew I would be. Since they had to deal with me, I’m hoping you can do the same.

“This morning we’re going to go play soccer with the kids in the program.”

Fuck. Not only did they send a white guy to Africa to sweat nonstop for two weeks (best detox ever), they also sent a gay guy to go play sports with a crowd of kids who think every adult male is David Beckham. I automatically assumed that within five minutes of arriving, I would take a soccer ball to the face, twist my ankle, get laughed at, pee my pants, cry and be sent home for embarrassing War Child. It was inevitable and made even worse by the fact that the soccer pitch was actually the size of about four football fields with hundreds of people playing in dozens of games left, right and center. As someone who gets nervous whenever someone says ‘locker room’, this scale of athletics gave me hives.

But when I got there, it was pretty clear I wouldn’t be playing soccer. I was too busy talking to friends from the coffee ceremony, letting kids compare their arms to mine because I practically glow in the sunlight and not in a ‘dreamy’ Twilight-sort of way, and soaking up every second I got to spend with the kids in War Child’s program. I would have hung out with them all day if I could have but I should probably start by explaining what ‘the program’ actually is.

This was probably the hardest thing for me to understand before I got here because, to be honest, I can’t say I really understood what War Child did. I know I probably should have figured that out before getting on a plane, but whatever, I’m fully aware of my own pitfalls. The bottom line is that this isn’t some ‘for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a day’ bullshit, this isn’t some lofty exercise in fundraising where money donated just disappears into an administrative abyss or corrupt government pocketbooks, and this isn’t a system of hand-outs that fosters crippling dependencies. So what is it? Here’s the general idea:

War Child partners with a local organization that employs local people to help in specific communities around the world. This makes sure that the people doing the work know the culture, the community and the people better than anyone else; that the program creates local jobs and creates legitimate connections between people rather than just white folk coming in to ‘fix’ everything; that the local organizations build their own skills and long-term capabilities by working with War Child employees; and that eventually the program will be self-sustaining on a local level so that War Child’s involvement can be phased out all together.

In Addis Ababa, this partnership provides homes, food, education and recreational activities for kids orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Right now 150 kids are living on their own in 39 houses, going to school every day, receiving regular tutoring, job training and family counseling. Older siblings commit to the responsibility of raising their younger siblings, giving up typical teenaged social lives so they can get a career and learn how to support the household. It’s a big task but an important one since this is the only way the younger kids will be able to get their own education. It creates sustainability within the home and eventually independence as kids ‘graduate’ from the program and are ready to take charge in their own lives as hairdressers, nurses, IT consultants, and tradespeople.

I spoke to a ton of these kids today while I was avoiding the utter embarrassment of playing sports in public. Before this program, they were depressed and hopeless. You know how we were all told we could do anything if we set our mind to it? These kids were being told they were going to die in a gutter just like their parents. I’m serious. Even though most of these kids are completely healthy, the community shut them out after their folks died. It wasn’t just that they couldn’t see their future, they didn’t HAVE a future. Imagine knowing you’re pretty much finished at the age of six, or having to look at your younger sister and tell her she has to go out and find money however she can or else she’ll die. It’s completely fucked up.

But today, they were standing here, feeling good, feeling happy, and feeling proud that they’re on track to not only take care of themselves, but to have the skills and strength to protect their younger brothers and sisters from what happens to so many others. A young girl I met today was in school to become a nurse. When I asked her if it was hard work she said it came really easy to her – all she needed was for someone to teach her. Another guy, a total ladies man, is close to finishing up at the hairdressing program and he already has the swagger that would make me want to make tracks for his shop although I don’t think I could pull off his signature dreads.

These aren’t the kids you see on TV sitting on the side of the road with flies on their cheeks. These are kids who are being given a chance and are squeezing every last drop of opportunity out of it.

Five years ago, none of the other community soccer teams would play against these kids. Today? They won 5-0, mostly because I stayed the hell out of their way, but also because this program has taken them from AIDS-orphaned kids to just kids. Actually no…not just kids – kids who are fighting hard for change, who decided to grow up fast so their siblings don’t have to, and who in five years time will have accomplished more than most of us could imagine doing if the roles were reversed.

So that’s it. That’s the big picture that I finally understand and while all I really want to do right now is spend more time with them, I’m off to do some touring of a northern region of the country for a few days before I see them again. I probably won’t have internet until mid-week but before I go, I wanted to let you know that I’d really like to end this trip with a donation to War Child both in thanks of giving me this experience and in hopes of seeing more kids in more countries getting this chance. I’m not going to campaign, I’m not going to sell cupcakes in shorty-shorts, I’m not going to hassle or beg, I’m just putting it out there this one time to see what happens. No matter what, War Child can count on my own humble donation and any support you’d like to toss into the pot.

Yes – I know that many of you are struggling in your own right and that’s okay. We’re all students and young professionals living paycheck to paycheck and I refuse to put any pressure or guilt on you. But last year we managed to raise over $2,000 for a great cause slowly but surely with $5, $10 and even $20 donations. Plus, I know very well that there are more established readers out there who can appreciate what it was like to be able to give their own kids the support they needed to be self-sufficient, or who understand what it’s like to be born with more of a chance in life than the kids here solely based on geography.

That’s my one appeal. I’ll be happily accepting donations through PayPal (use the button) for the rest of the week. I’m going to keep the total amount private because I really don’t want this entire experience to be about money, and quite frankly I’ll be happy even if my donation is the only one just knowing that some of you were able to get educated with me through this experience. Hell, I’m already happy because I didn’t embarrass myself on the soccer field.

High School Reunion

Spoiler alert: I wasn’t a cool teenager. I wasn’t invited to all the parties, I didn’t hang out with the in-crowd, I didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t date. You get the point. Basically all I did was have acne, make jokes, and try to get by without tempting the resurgence of cruel nicknames from junior high which we can talk about offline, if you insist. Not that this is all entirely relevant, but I still get nervous when I have to go speak with school kids. Whether they’re in second grade or high school, I go right back to the most self-conscious version of myself who thinks everyone’s going to laugh at me. Oh yes. I’m a treat.

When I found out that we’d be spending a good amount of time with kids going through War Child’s programs here, I tried as hard as I could to push those nerves aside and for once, it actually worked–probably because I was nervous about so many other things at the time that social awkwardness was the least of my worries. Besides, being the only white guy for miles? You get used to being stared at pretty damn quick. A guy at the market even held up a white sneaker he wanted me to buy saying, “White? White! White!” as if it was the best reason to buy a pair of shoes ever.

Arriving at the oldest high school in Ethiopia, however, was a bit of a different story. I felt good for getting used to the crazy driving situations, I stopped flinching every time someone came at me out of nowhere trying to get money, and my fears of not being able to eat without full-blown stomach trauma had been squashed. I was feeling pretty awesome actually. That is until I had reached the final steps before entering the rehearsal space for War Child’s theatre program. It brought me right back to my first day of school in the Netherlands–I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t speak the language, and I had no idea what was going on. Is there such a thing as a phobia of schools? If not, can we make one and name it after me?

Of course it only took a few seconds to realize once again that I need to relax. We were greeted with a HUGE smile by the playwright and director who was leading this group of kids through an educational play that will be performed for their peers next week. He was thrilled to have us there to check out the rehearsal and the kids? Well, they were even more nervous about this than I was and even they were able to crack a smile to break the tension. Other than the fact that they were all far more attractive than I am, I felt pretty good being there although I sometimes question the benefits of being a classic blend of French and Irish…I’m short, burn easily, and pack on weight like I’m always planning for the next potato famine.

But this isn’t about me. (That reminder was more for me than it was for you.)

The theatre program is another way to get youth in Addis Ababa to start thinking about their choices, to get educated on the resources and support available to them, and to inspire them to aim higher for their futures. Performed by kids, for kids, the program creates incredible discussion opportunities in a casual, non-preachy environment while also giving young people valuable theatrical and leadership experience. And guys? These kids are GOOD. The director explained the story to us beforehand so we could follow along, but even if he hadn’t, the talent and emotion left up on that stage would have been just as captivating.

Boy meets Girl. Boy and Girl decide to finish their education before starting their lives together. Girl’s father is a real jerk who decides to accept money from a rich, arrogant merchant in exchange for his daughter’s betrothal to his rich, arrogant son. Boy and Girl decide to run away together but Girl disappears first. One year later, Girl is living on the street with a child born with HIV/AIDS out of a sexual assault, she’s dying, and no one who passes by will tell her where she can turn for help. Girl dies on the street, passersby find a War Child representative to help figure out what to do with the baby.

It sounds really heavy…mostly because it is…but a running narrative creates opportunities for audience engagement, encouraging kids to get involved with the discussion. What happened to the girl when she disappeared? How did her life fall apart? What choices would have made things turn out differently? Where could she have gone for help? What will happen to the baby now? The whole event helps the audience really think about what can happen, and how it can be avoided. The final performance is next week and I can’t wait to see how it all goes. Stay tuned on this one.

You thought I could do all this by myself?

So I’ve been a little rude. I wrote my entire first blog post from Ethiopia without really introducing you to the folks who are essentially being paid to be my best friends, bodyguards, tour guides, eating buddies, and walking wikipedias while I’m here. Cute huh? You should probably drown them in compliments in the comments so that I’m in a little bit less trouble in the morning for posting the ‘after’ shot from our four-hour walking excursion in the midday African sun. Also, I suspect a lot more ‘don’t blog about this’ regulations to come into effect after this post so enjoy it while it lasts! Also also, all the local guys keep giving me the ‘awwww yeah’ nod on the street because they think I’m dating both of them which is about as awesome as our failed attempts to convince schoolkids that I am in fact internationally treasured vocal talent and cultural icon Justin Bieber.

Emma (on the left) and I synced up in Toronto and somehow managed to survive an eight-hour flight to Frankfurt, a five-hour layover, and an eight-hour flight to Addis without causing each other bodily or emotional harm. This is her first trip overseas for War Child but she’s spent plenty of time in South Africa and has been involved with the organization since high school. She was the first dedicated fundraiser hired for War Child Canada (I’m 98% certain that’s true and if it isn’t, I’ll have an internet source that says otherwise momentarily when I hit publish), had a mad crush on Lester B. Pearson, freely admits to watching Teen Mom, and has no hesitations about running up to attractive European men for directions when it is loosely suggested that she should take one for the team. She’s legit. As are cute European travelers.

Linda (on the right, but you already knew that because clearly I haven’t gone all Castaway and started naming bottles of vinegar…yet) was ever so kind to meet us at the airport when we landed so that Emma and I wouldn’t just give up on life and set up camp in the arrivals section for two weeks. She’s a program manager for War Child which basically means she spends time in several countries to assist the local partner organizations in managing their administration, finances, partnerships, and building the skills needed within these teams to make sure the communities get access to new training and skills throughout the program. Linda flew up to meet us here fresh off two weeks in the Congo. She has worked in development in well over 40 countries around the world, she answers most of my questions and makes up entertaining lies whenever she’s in doubt, her original career aspirations were to become Indiana Jones (I’d say she’s done alright there), she takes on all the hard jobs like haggling and warding off pickpockets, and gets pretty serious about her Yahtzee.

Blog friends? Emma and Linda.

Emma and Linda? Blog friends.

We already have our little family routines because we’re super adorable. Cereal, yogurt and boiled eggs in the morning, fruit smoothies in the afternoon, wat and injera for dinner, some other activities that don’t involve eating from time to time, and consistently making fun of me for recognizing terrible pop songs that play in random places. Today’s selection was headlined by Next’s Too Close. Oh yes, not even in Ethiopia can you escape their smooth vocals about getting erections on the dance floor.

We spent most of today hoofing it all over old town in search of cheap silver jewelry and fantastic Ethiopian espresso beans, posing rather inappropriately with historical treasure Lucy the Skeleton, getting really angry about Ethiopian directions that sent us an hour and a half in the wrong direction in search of the Holy Trinity Cathedral only to find it and realize we couldn’t go in because it was in session, and almost dying several times in a cab but found peace in knowing that our death would be cushioned by pink fur which is apparently a suitable replacement for seat belts.

Tomorrow we hit the largest market in Africa and visit the kids at their theatre rehearsal which I am far too excited about. But for now, check out some of the pics from today’s adventures.

Delusional mantras and holy shit I’m going to Africa.

This is the mantra that I’ve been using to convince myself that my trip to Ethiopia will be a cakewalk. I repeated this in my head as I stumbled through tourist visa applications. I repeated this in my head  as I struggled through seven vaccinations over the course of two days. I repeated this in my head as the doctor told me about 26 different cautions that never would have crossed my mind. I repeated this in my head as I realized I was going to spend 16 hours on planes and many more in airports before even setting foot on African soil.

Oh yes–my mantra and I have become good friends. The hard part was winning the challenge, right? I figured now I’d just get to sit back and enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience that just dropped into my lap. Oh wait. What’s that you say? Why yes–I AM delusional because if you look at that mantra, here’s how it actually breaks down:

“I’ve traveled all over the world by myself…” …if all over the place actually means Ireland and major urban centres across Canada and the United States.

“I’ve survived road trips across Europe…” …when I was 12 and my parents planned everything and my biggest stress was having enough batteries to listen to MmmBop nonstop for three straight weeks.

“I’m perfectly comfortable being by myself…” …for up to three days at a time, then I start getting a little cray-cray.

“or out of my comfort zone…” …meaning places that aren’t Halifax but are pretty much like Halifax – places with lattés, iTunes, directions that I understand, streets that are safe to walk around on at night, languages that I speak, and food that I can eat.

So here I am embracing the fact that I don’t have a sweet clue what to expect, that none of my past experiences have really prepared me for anything like this, and that it’s scarier now that there’s nothing to win anymore. I don’t have to be the best writer, or get the most votes, or record the best video. There’s no right way, no essays, videos, photo galleries, or final grades. Now it’s just all about whatever happens–those raw experiences that can’t be anticipated, planned for, or perfected.

Today I accept that there are no accomplishments left in this process for me. In fact, this really isn’t about me at all anymore which is admittedly hard for me to grasp sometimes. With only a few days left to go, all I can do is show up, watch, listen, learn, keep my shit together, and hope for the best.


Not long ago, a certain friend was over to have some dinner and watch Glee with us and another lovely guest. At the time, she was on the job market and had too much time on her hands which – let’s just face it because we’re all perverts – meant that she took up the familiar and beloved international hobby of Internet pornography. One thing led to another and all of a sudden the three of us are creeping all up on my laptop and some website where anybody can hook up a webcam and put on a live show.

Now let’s be clear – 80% of the live feeds are unwatchable. Unwatchable for reasons including but not limited to unattractiveness, weird junk, unattractive sexual partners, oldies, fatties, sex toy use that made us uncomfortable, bad lighting, and terrible soundtracks. But that last 20%? Okay fine, they’re still not even close to okay but they’re either hot enough, good for a laugh, or the people sending them public chat messages with requests are so strange that you can’t look away. So we watched, we drank wine, we laughed, we got weirded out when the newf wandered into the room, and we never spoke of it again. No harm done.

Flash forward a few weeks to me on a break in between old job and new job. Clearly, and none of you should be overly surprised here, I’m in the throes of a full-fledged addiction NOT TO INTERNET PORN (this time) but to reading the dramatic unfoldings of internet porn chat messages. It was so bad that I had stopped watching what was actually happening all together just to watch the old school chat feed. It was like I had time-traveled back before Facebook, Twitter, MSN, even ICQ, and I liked it. It had the same novelty as what I believe sexting via fax would.

So I was stuck in this amateur porn cycle when I landed on these two British guys who were just sitting there drinking Pepsi out of the bottle (not sexy-like either if that’s something that you’re into) while people hurl jaw-droppingly filthy suggestions at them via chat. After half an hour or so of that (sadly I’m serious), they finally start doing stuff when what happens? ONE OF THEIR MOMS BURSTS IN THE ROOM! Oh yes – friends. Shit got juicier than a season finale on Passions.

The mom freaked out over having just walked in on her kid, the guys freaked out because they’re acting like Romans back when the Olympics were totally gaytown, a dog ran into the room and jumped up on the bed to play with the empty bottle of Pepsi, and IT WAS ALL BEING BROADCAST TO THE WORLD. And that’s about when I left all my dignity behind by deciding that I’m okay with being the kind of person who texts friends about porn and created a sexy-texty list. And to be honest? I still feel good about that.

The Work Nemesis

I’m willing to bet that anyone reading this right now who has a regular place of business or study also happens to have a Work Nemesis. Much like the Work Crush (someone who is rarely worth a second look in real life yet from the smaller sample of colleagues is the hottest and therefore merits sexual attraction within that particular environment), there is always one person that drives you so crazy that you’re not even sure how they’ve lived their lives so far without getting eaten by a pack of rabid, robotic lions from Columbia who also happen to be drug lords. THAT’S how much you hate this person.

But when you think about what really irks you about them, your borderline obsessive hatred is hardly justified when you look at the annoyances individually. You can’t hate someone solely based on the fact that they talk to you too early in the morning, or because they always take the last of the coffee without setting another pot. Their actions hardly deserve more than an eyeroll let alone the list of ways you think they should die or at least be disfigured in horrible freak accidents involving clown cars and tapioca pudding.

So maybe you make a point to change your ways. Maybe you get up in the morning and say, ‘today’s the day I’m going to chill the fuck out.’ But without fail, by lunchtime you’re back on the Internet googling killer bee farmers…you know…just for research purposes.

Well I’m here to tell you that it’s not worth fighting your feelings. No matter what, you are ALWAYS going to irrationally hate someone you work with. If your nemesis were to quit tomorrow, you’d hate someone else by 10 am. Why? Because you have to. It’s how The Universe keeps us all from being good people. Even if you worked at an office with a bunch of clones of the most average guy you’ve ever encountered and they all looked and behaved the exact same way, you would still want to kill one of them and have raunchy secret sex with another. It’s just the way things have to be.

Right now I work from home. I’m by myself all day long and even I have found my work nemesis: The Kettle. (Yup. I JUST reached the purpose of this entire post. Embrace it.)

For years, the newf and I had a plug-in kettle that could boil the entire contents of the Atlantic if we wanted it to. It was the best kettle ever. I’d be all, ‘I want tea!‘ and the kettle would freak the fuck out like, ‘YOU THINK I CAN’T BOIL WATER, MOTHERFUCKER? SHABLAM! ORANGE PEKOE ALL UP IN YOUR BUSINESS, BITCH!‘ And then it would get so hot that our cupboards would start warping.

The problem? It didn’t have an automatic shut-off. It was like the crack addict of boiling – it just never knew when enough was enough. Because the new theme of my life is Scattered, I would put the kettle on, forget, hop in the shower, and rush out to find it boiled itself dry which is apparently dangerous or something. So on a very sad day, we replaced it and my entire life went to hell.

The new kettle looks like pure hotness. It’s stainless steel, it sits on a black base, and it pretty much hits on you when you walk by. But that’s about where it gives up. Even with the bare minimum amount of water in it, it takes over 45 minutes to boil, or, long enough for me to forget I even wanted tea in the first place. Plus its ‘I’m ready‘ noise was modeled after the sound a fragile Japanese butterfly makes whilst softly flitting about a field of pansies. Even when it does boil, I never hear it, instead remembering two hours later by the time the water is cold again.

Bottom line: I could heat water faster with a teaspoon and candle.

And this cycle happens every day making me full-on ragey by the time the newf comes home and there’s really no easy way to explain that you’re in a fight with an inanimate kitchen appliance that has deprived you of tea for yet another day. But yet we’ll probably never return it because I’m lazy and the newf actually DOES have enough braincells to focus on his want for tea long enough to keep tabs on the water situation whereas I’m too busy fighting 74837272 other impulses including but not limited to:

– Maybe eventually I’ll convince myself that a cup of tea is as good as a latté.
– I wonder what Jake Gylenhaal is doing right now.
– Betcha whatever it is, it’s sexy.
– Ooh let’s have a pants off dance off!
– I wonder if my neighbours just saw that.
– Oh look! I have puppies!
– Betcha I can still get work done while watching this Kardashians marathon…

And then I come to about four days later not really knowing where I am and also thinking that the junk in my trunk is entirely inadequate which is somehow still the kettle’s fault.

Posts that you write during hour ten of air travel don’t need to really have any structure or purpose, right? Believe it or not, I was very tired when this post came together. Be kind.

Probably sounds more offensive than what actually went down. Maybe.

Because I’m so worldly, informed, sensitive, and welcoming, I often find myself surrounded by similar people which is what led to my dear friend Stephanie telling us over dinner about her Dad’s childhood in Guyana. Well, actually, it started a little more like this.

Ben: “LOVEFACE! I might be going to Ethiopia! Tell me all about your Dad’s life in Africa because clearly any place in Africa is the same as any other place in Africa!”

(Worldly, informed, sensitive.)

Steph: “Oh – he was actually from Guyana.”

Ben: “Right. Ghana.”

Steph: “Uhm. Guyana.”

Ben: “Potato, potahto. Just tell me about it.”

Overlooking the immediate issue that I don’t know the difference between Ghana and Guyana, Steph then told me an incredible story about how her dad used to paddle down a river to get to school, and rush home to claim one of the hammocks to sleep in because if you slept in the cot, the anacondas would sometimes pass through on the dirt floor of the building they lived in which, c’mon, is an AWESOME story. So clearly misinformed or no, part of their family or no, at all connected to anything about either Africa OR South America or no, I started telling this story to EVERYONE until I got to my parents who actually ARE worldly, informed and sensitive.

Ben: “Something something Africa something AND THEN THERE WAS AN ANACONDA. Isn’t that CRAZY?!”

Mom: “That’s nice honey.” (She mostly just humours me.)

Dad: “…except there are no anacondas in Africa.” (He doesn’t.)

Ben: “You’re so goddamn rude. How DARE you question her family heritage and their African roots? You’re practically racist. I can’t believe we’re related by blood.”

Dad: “Just sayin’…”

Ben: “Whatever. My story is awesome.”

And so weeks past. And Stephanie came back regularly (god knows why…). And my shaken confidence kept me from ever bringing up anything about her family ever again since I would then have to admit that my usually-correct father questioned HER father’s story, surely causing a parental fight worthy of a middle school jumprope rhyme. And things were fine…I mean, we mostly ended up having to talk about Britney Spears, Glee, and champagne instead of worldly issues but that’s mostly business as usual for my friendships.

And then during a car ride home with the newf everything came crashing down.

Ben: “My dad’s so rude. As if HE knows whether or not there are snakes in Africa. I mean, he’s been there what – seven times?”

The newf: “What the hell are you talking about?”

Ben: “That time I told him about Steph’s dad’s time in Africa…with the paddling…and the river…and the anaconda…”

The newf: “Steph’s dad has never been to Africa. He lived in Guyana.”

Ben: “Guy…Ana? Is this different than Ghana?”

The newf: “Are you serious?”

Ben: “No? Ha? Ha? Oh no…I’ve been making Stephanie very uncomfortable, haven’t I?”

The newf: “One can only assume.”

So I spent a couple of weeks wondering if I should just stick to my guns or not considering the damage had already been done. You might think that sounds crazy, but I will often just own up to moments of The Stupid because it’s usually less embarrassing than actually having to TALK about it. I DIDN’T this time, guys. Give me some credit.

And then with a good night’s sleep…

This was the first comment on my last post and it could not have been more perfect. It challenged the dramatic emo meltdown that I was rocking after a day of perpetual mornings (traveling from east to west can kiss my ass), and called bullshit where bullshit needed to be called. Also, it made me think of hot straight guys with flexible morals and hamstrings. I’m not taking it all back, but let me just fill in some of the gaps.

2023 was a year of the Twinkie on a Stick*. There was not a day that went by where there wasn’t something really amazing just outside of my grasp which once in a while is a really good motivator. In my crazy-insane-does-this-shit-actually-happen-to-people life though, chasing so many big things can be completely exhausting. I actually ran myself into the ground on multiple occasions trying to grab it and make sweet mouth-love to it. Why? Because doing really cool shit generally makes you think that everything you do needs to be even bigger and better than the last. And that, my friends, is one of the easiest ways to lose perspective, lose control, and generally watch yourself fall to pieces over and over and over.

Maybe it’s just me and you’re all going to think I’m some weird psychopath, but after a while of holding yourself to obscenely high standards, you start convincing yourself that everyone else does too. After telling people you’re going on a trip to Ethiopia, you feel like you can’t bloody well follow up during the next coffee date with a story about how you found a new kind of laundry detergent that makes your sweaters feel like your wearing clouds. And that’s the sort of thing that led to me to walk down the street assuming that strangers are already disappointed in me, or think I’m a failure because I don’t have millions of dollars, I’m not a world-famous writer, and I haven’t solved every global issue – conveniently throwing all of my actual accomplishments in the garbage.

When I said I needed to just blend in and move on in my last post, what I really meant is that I needed a vacation from all of the pressure – the pressure I put on me, the pressure I project onto others, and the pressure that keeps me from actually accomplishing or enjoying all the great things that I’ve been very lucky to have been a part of. I’m not going to stop trying, or hold myself back from some of the things that lie ahead – but I am going to remember to strip away all the mental game bullshit that consistently keeps me from celebrating successes and progress instead of always taking note of what didn’t happen. Hopefully that makes a little more sense than the sleep-deprived, where-the-hell-am-I post from yesterday.

Uncle Ben

Babies. They’re supposed to be all adorable and cooey and snuggly and wonderful and we’re all supposed to spend obscene amounts of time talking about how beautiful and amazing and gifted they are because they can still shove their toes in their own mouths. I get it. But really? I don’t care about them. I don’t want to hold them, feed them, change them, or generally be around them until they’re old enough to be cool and impressionable.

Maybe it’s because I was the baby of the family and didn’t get much exposure to those little nuggets of unadulterated bodily functions, maybe it’s because they make me think about the downstairs mess that cruel new moms insist on teaching me about, but seriously just call me when they’re five and will think I’m Jesus for introducing them to lego and cheese strings.

Or at least that’s what I would have said this time last week.

You know that cliché scene that hits around season five or six of every television series ever made where the main characters are all huddled together in a hospital lobby, waiting to hear good news from the delivery room? My Saturday afternoon was like that…except the hospital was the international arrivals of the Halifax Airport, the pregnancy build-up was four years instead of nine months, and most of us were too overwhelmed to say anything witty or insightful beyond “ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod THERE THEY ARE!!”

Yes – my new favourite person in the entire universe came home this past weekend and I’m still processing the amazing experience it was to watch his beautiful parents walk him through the doors to be greeted by his new grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, and biggest fans. We only saw him for about half an hour, you know, since his parents probably want to uhh…adjust to being parents, but I’m already obsessed. I expect it’ll be years until I can look at him without welling up just knowing what he has come from and the life he’s going to get with his new family.

Given the pure mania of the whole situation, we haven’t heard a whole lot about their week in Ethiopia just yet but when his folks walked into the orphanage to meet their baby for the first time, he was there in his crib, gripping onto the only toy in the whole building for dear life – a fleecy blanket with a giraffe’s head that his parents had sent over months earlier. AND OH MY GOD I DON’T REMEMBER THE REST OF THE STORY BECAUSE I WAS TOO BUSY GASPING FOR BREATH IN BETWEEN HAPPY SOBS.

Now all I do is bounce up and down at home, asking the newf over and over again if it’s too early to call, show up unannounced at their house, or steal their baby and make for the border. But wait – don’t think I’ve gone soft on you guys. In order to make the right first impression and manage expectations, I was devastatingly hungover from our office’s open bar holiday party.