Day 181 - Yagub

Day 181 - Yagub (1st person I approached)
June 30, 2014 - Yagub was sitting by himself on a bench on the seawall. As I walked toward him, he was seemingly just taking in the view of the water, the passersby, and enjoying the sunshine. When I first spoke with him, he told me that his English wasn’t too good. I tend to speak fast, so I slowed things down and explained my project and asked Yaqub if he’d chat with me. I assured him that we’d be able to understand one another. He smiled, raised his eyebrows and said ok. 

 

Yagub was born in Dammam, in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. It is the most oil-rich region in the world. The name ‘Yaqub’ is the Arabic equivalent of ‘Jacob,’ after the Islamic prophet.

“I have four brothers and five sisters. I am in the middle, so I had older family to help me and then I helped with the younger ones myself,” he said. Yagub did all his schooling in Dammam and when he was 18 years old, he enrolled in the Royal Saudi Navy.

“It is voluntary. I was interested in becoming a mechanical engineer. When I was about 15 years old, I started to work on cars. It was something I liked and I bought my first car when I was 18 so I could take it apart and work on it. I like knowing how things work,” he said. After being in the military for three years, Yagub went to France to attend university.

“I spent five years in France studying Mechanical Engineering, which the navy paid for. There was a group of five of us from the navy that went to France to study. I also learned to speak French when I was there. That was thirty years ago, and I don’t speak much French these days, so I don’t remember most of it,” Yagub said, shaking his head. 

 

After completing his studies and getting a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering, Yagub returned to Saudi Arabia. He was stationed in Jeddah, the main western base of the Royal Saudi Navy.

“I worked on ships, repairing and maintaining the engines. Some of the ships were very large, able to carry maybe 300 crew,” he said.

“I spent my time at the base, I didn’t sail.” Yagub served in the military for 27 years, before retiring. His family now live in the town of his birth, Dammam. He is married and has seven children.

“I have three sons and four daughters. It is common for Arabic people to have large families. It is our culture,” he said. Yagub first came to Vancouver about three years ago, spending six months here learning to speak English.

“Three of my children are here in Vancouver to go to university. I wanted to learn to speak English so that when I am here I can say hello to people and be able to communicate,” he says. One of Yagub’s daughters is going to UBC (University of British Columbia) studying medicine. Another daughter and a son are learning English in Vancouver to prepare for going to university here as well.

“My children live in an apartment here. They all live together. The Saudi government help with the costs of their education,” he said.

 

Yagub arrived in Vancouver one week ago and is will be in town for three months.

“The difficulty for this trip,” he tells me, “is that it is the holy month of Ramadan just now. Yesterday was the first day of fasting. It takes a few days to get used to the fasting.” I asked Yagub if there was any difference for him honouring Ramadan here in Vancouver compared to home in Saudi Arabia.

“Well of course in Dammam everyone is fasting so it makes that a little easier. But the days are longer here in Vancouver than they are in Dammam. We fast from two hours before sunrise until sunset each day. So today that means not eating between 3:00am until 9:20pm. That’s a long day. That’s why I’m sitting here enjoying the view. I have a few hours still before I can break my fast.” I asked Yagub the correct way to acknowledge Ramadan to someone observing it.

”In Arabic we say Ramadan Mubarak.” Yagub told me that if his daughter had been with him, she could have spoken better than he did. I told him I didn't think we had any problems understanding each other at all. We shook hands three times. Ramadan Mubarak, habibi.  #notastranger

Day 180 - Dee

Day 180 - Dee (1st person I approached)

June 29, 2014 - I was walking down the street after getting some groceries, and I was keenly aware of someone walking behind me. They were directly behind me so all my subtle tricks of using my peripheral vision and reflections in windows to see who it was, failed. I didn’t feel threatened, I was just curious. I’m a fast walker and this person was completely in step with me. I came to a stop at a crosswalk, and turned around to see Dee. I almost didn’t think about asking her to chat, I was intrigued with her tattoos, but I caught myself. She was more than happy to chat, so we crossed the street and sat on some stone steps at the side of the road and chatted. 

 

Dee was born and raised in Brampton, Ontario.

“I’m the youngest of three children. I have two older brothers who are twins. They’re eight years older than I am. I guess I was a bit of a tomboy growing up because I wanted to be like them so much. I thought they were cool and I wanted to hang around with them. Of course they didn’t want their little sister tagging along. Once I was older, we became a lot closer. It was kind of like ‘oh, you’re an adult now and you’re pretty cool, let’s hang out’ and we’re much closer than we were,” she said. Dee’s parents separated when she was a baby and her father lives in Switzerland.

“It was my mother, my brothers and me.” 

 

Dee went to elementary and high school in Brampton.

“I was always interested in the arts, and music and theatre. I played the trumpet in a school jazz band and then in high school I got right into the theatre program. I got involved in as much as I could. Then my interest shifted toward visual arts,” she said.

“I certainly went through a stage when I was a rebel and difficult in my teens. I didn’t want to answer to anyone and rebelled against any authority or even listening to anyone. My mother was very supportive, encouraging me to explore whatever I wanted. But that was probably the most difficult time in our relationship,” she said.

"As soon as I moved out to go to college, our relationship got right back on track. My mother is my best friend,” she told me. Once Dee had finished high school, she moved to Oakville, in southern Ontario to go to college.

“I took an Arts foundation program. It covered life-drawing, painting, sculpture and three dimensional design. And how to build and put together a portfolio. It was a good course. I also loved the sense of freedom of not living at home and making my own decisions,” said Dee. After college in Oakville, the plan was to move to Toronto and continue going to school.

“I got to Toronto and just took some time off from school. I worked as a server and just had fun and enjoyed living in ‘the big city’ before thinking about school again for a while,” Dee said. 

 

When the time came for Dee to look into school again, there had been some changes in the scheduling.

“I was all set to go in and study and work hard. I was taking all the practical stuff that I had missed out on when I was in high school. Like calculus and sciences, and English. Getting a good foundation, and upgrading my grades. There was a problem with the scheduling though and I was going to have to wait around a few months for it to get sorted. I had been in school for eight months at this point and I didn’t want to sit around waiting. I’m not very good at the whole patience thing. My mother had lived in BC (British Columbia) when she was younger and said she had really good memories of it. Everyone I had met from the west coast seemed great and I’d heard good things in general. So I decided I’d go for an adventure rather than waiting around in Toronto. I moved to Vancouver just two weeks ago,” she said, with a beaming smile. Dee is already working. She got a job in a highly reputable tattoo shop, working with the customers when they arrive.  Dee also takes care of setting up and clearing the stations where the tattooists work.

“I do the sterilizing and cleaning. I’ve thought for a time that I’d like to be a tattoo artist, but I just don’t have the patience. It takes a lot of training and drawing the same thing over and over again before you even get to do a tattoo. If I can’t get something right in the first couple of tries, then I lose interest," she said.

 

I asked Dee if she had friends or knew anyone here in Vancouver that inspired her to make the move.

“I know two people that live here. It feels good to make a decision and to move somewhere and not know many people. In Toronto I was always seeing people I know. It’s nice to start a new adventure. I’m very comfortable with who I am, I’ve got that all worked out. And so now, I’m on this new adventure. I’m loving it. It feels good to be here.” #notastranger

Day 179 - Michael

Day 179 - Michael (2nd person I approached)
June 28, 2014 - Michael was sitting outside a coffee shop, sheltered from the rain by a large awning. He was reading. He asked me how long I would need when I asked him to chat. I told him five minutes, or ten if he was really interesting. I got the desired ice-breaking chuckle. He told me he liked the name of my project, and that it was a good concept.

 

Michael was born in the small town of Haderslev, in the Jutland area of southern Denmark.

“I have one baby sister and one baby brother. I felt a certain responsibility towards my brother. He’s ten years younger than I am and I knew he looked up to me. He often copied what I did,” he said.

“My father was a banker and we moved around a fair bit. He liked change. But I think of Haderslev as my home town.” Michael did all of his elementary and high school there.

“The education system is different in Denmark. After high school, I went to what I guess you’d call college, before going to university. I left Haderslev and studied software development for almost four years in university,” he said. Once he had finished university, Michael was finding it difficult to get a job.

“The tech industry was going through a downward trend and jobs weren’t that easy to come by. I decided to take a year long course that dealt specifically with software in an accounting and finance environment. It was a very specialized course. I worked hard and finished at the top of the class,” he said. 

 

The job offers came in and Michael moved to Copenhagen to start work.

“I was working in finance software and had been doing that for about a year. A friend and I decided to put our resumes out around the world and we got some incredible offers. I got one from Vancouver, but I knew practically nothing about the city. In the small bubble that is Denmark, when I thought of Canada, it was as being a land of igloo’s and snow all year round. My friend and I both got offers from a company in Malaysia. We accepted, and then just as I was getting ready to leave, I heard some discouraging information about the position. My friend took the job in Malaysia and I called the company here in Vancouver,” said Michael. When I was on the plane and we flew over Vancouver, I looked out the window and saw the water. I thought, excuse me but “Fuck yes!” I knew then that I would stay here,” said Michael. He worked for that company for two years before setting out on his own.

“I always had the intention of starting my own company, and I did it. I quit the job and started working for myself. I work in lead generation and online marketing. That’s why I know the name of your project is a very good one. That’s what I do for a living,” he said. Michael has been his own boss for eight years now and has six staff working for him.

“It’s going really well.”

 

His family have been to visit many times, Michael tells me.

“As a matter of fact, they’ll be arriving here again in fourteen days. My brother wants to move here. He’s into high level personal training and fitness. Vancouver is the perfect location for him to start his own business,” said Michael. An attractive woman came towards the table and Michael smiled at her.

“This is my wife,” he said. We shook hands and I explained why I was sitting with her husband. I asked how they had met and how long they’ve been married.

“We’ve got married about eight years ago,” his wife said, with Michael smiling in agreement.

“We met the second day after I arrived here in Vancouver,” Michael said.

“It was at a company picnic. We started as friends and then it grew from there,” he said. I asked if they had any children. In unison, once again they both responded.

“No. We have a parrot.” #notastranger

Day 178 - Sandrine

Day 178 - Sandrine (3rd person I approached)
June 27, 2014 - Sandrine was stood under an archway, out of the rain, having a cigarette when I approached her. As I was telling her about my project and what I do, I watched a smile spread across her face. When I asked her to chat with me, she was full on grinning! 

 

Born in Greenfield Park, a small town west of Montreal across the St Lawrence River, Sandrine is the youngest of two children.

“I have an older brother. He is two years older than I am. We are different people with completely different lifestyles,” she tells me in her thick French accent. The first three years of elementary were spent in the public school system.

“My parents wanted me to get ‘a better education’ so I went to the school where you stay, boarding school, for the rest of my elementary education. I’m not sure I actually did get a better education to tell you the truth. I did like the feeling of independence that I had at boarding school. Not being with my parents, sharing a large room with my friends. I didn’t mind it at all,” said Sandrine. Her parents separated when she was eight years old.

“My brother went to live with my father and when I wasn’t in school, I lived with my mother. When I finished elementary school, I moved to a private school. Not boarding, I went home every night, but it was a private school.” she said.

 

After completing high school, Sandrine went to CEGEP (General and Vocational College in Quebec).

“I took Marketing. I left after three semesters. I wasn’t into it. It wasn’t a good fit for me, and I ended up failing my exams. We had a contract in the school, and if you fail, you leave. So I left,” she said. Sandrine wanted to travel, and decided to come to British Columbia (BC).

“It was the west coast, it was still in Canada and wasn’t Quebec. I wanted to explore. I drove out here to go to the Okanagan area to work. I picked cherries for three months. Then I drove down to California and got a job working on a farm. I did that for a while and then decided to go back to Montreal to get my dog. I had left him in Montreal because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I wanted to stay in California. I spent a few weeks in Montreal and then headed back to California with my dog. I travelled around that area for a while, just me and my dog, but I worked at the farm for about six months,” said Sandrine. Sadly, her dog died while she was in California.

“I’m glad I went and got him and that we had some time travelling around together. After he died, I decided to take off to Central America,” she said.

 

Sandrine boarded a bus and headed to Nicaragua.

“I travelled around for about three months, by bus and hitchhiking. After Nicaragua I went to Guatemala and then to Mexico. It was an amazing experience. My parents wanted me to go to school, but this was my school. I learned so much through traveling and meeting other people,” she told me. 

 

Sandrine headed back to California to collect her car and then drove back to Montreal.

"I went back to spend some time with my friends and see my family. I was there for about month and then I drove back to BC. I’ve certainly put some miles on my car, that’s for sure, yes!” She spent the late spring working just outside of Prince George, in the Mackenzie area, tree planting.

“Everyone said it would hurt my back, but it didn’t. I was surprised. It did though really hurt my hands. They’re a mess now. But it was so much fun and I’m going back again for the rest of summer,” she said. Sandrine just had a week off, some of which she spent picking cherries, and was in Vancouver for a short break.

“I’ll be heading back up north in a few days and will stay there for the summer,” she said.

 

I asked Sandrine what she had planned or thought she might do after the summer season.

“I haven't completely decided yet. I might go back to school. I want to learn to become a mechanic. Fixing cars. Or I might go traveling again. I would like to get out of North America, just go far away. I want to go to Europe. Not western Europe, no,“ she says with a bit of a snarl on her face.

“I want to go to eastern Europe. To really see it while I can. Before it all changes.” #notastranger

Day 177 - Jonny

Day 177 - Jonny (1st person I approached)
June 26, 2014 - Jonny set me a challenge. I saw him grab a newspaper out of one of those boxes that sit at the street corner. He then casually walked over and leaned against a wall and started to read it. I approached him and told him what I was doing and asked him if he’d chat. I said it might only take five minutes, and then before I was able to add 'it may take 40,' Jonny said

“Sure I’ll talk with you, I’m just hanging out killing time. I have four minutes before I have an appointment a block away from here.” Go!

 

Jonny was born and raised in Lacombe, Alberta.

“I have one older brother. We get along, yeah. But we’re very different. He lives in Calgary and I’m here in Vancouver now,” said Jonny. For as long as he can remember, from a very young age, Jonny has been singing.

“At school I used to get my friends to sit in the bleachers and I’d stand in the front and sing for everyone while we waited for our Phys Ed class,” he said.

“I was the weird guy in school who was always singing. I stood out enough that I knew I wanted to get out of there whenever I could.”

 

As soon as he could after finishing school, Jonny moved to Vancouver.

“There are courses available to learn to be a musician. I’m interested in the creation process. I’m more of a doer, I like to just get into it and play. There are people who are very skilled with the technical aspects of making music,” he said. Jonny taught himself to play piano and guitar, and

“can fake my way through a bit of drum playing.” He fronts a band called “Art of Dying” that he started with a friend. (*Fact Check - see links below.)

“We have spent most of the last few years touring. Vancouver is my base, but we’ve never performed here,” says Jonny. The band performed at Rocklahoma, a rock festival in Pryor, Oklahoma. Jonny had a chance to have some “one on one time” with Nikki Sixx, of Mötley Crüe, the band who were headlining the festival.

“He connected us with someone he knows who owns a record label. We ended up signing with them. We just spent two months in the US recording a new album, which comes out soon,” he said. They have toured extensively throughout the United States, and were invited to perform in England. (The ‘Art of Dying’ have almost 350 thousand fans online. They performed earlier this year as part of the line-up for ‘ShipRocked,’ an annual hard rock and heavy metal music festival at sea. Departing from the Port of Miami there are onboard performances while cruising. The cruise ship also stopped at a private island in the Bahamas where the bands performed.)

 

Our four minutes were coming to an end. I walked a short distance with Jonny to where he needed to be for his appointment. Jonny returned his paper to the newspaper box. We talked about the songs he writes.

“I’m fascinated with insects and lately, I seem to be using them in my songs. While we were just in the studio recording, the producer was giving me a hard time about a song that references ants. The thing is, everyone knows what an ant is, it’s an easy concept for people to understand,” he said. After walking one block, we arrived at his destination. Jonny invited me in, so I could see where he was going. It was a skincare spa.

“She’s the only one I trust. She’s my anything-and-everything-to-do-with-my-skin lady.” #notastranger

*Fact Check - http://www.artofdyingmusic.com/news.php
**Fact Check - https://www.youtube.com/user/ArtOfDyingMusic

Day 176 - Mary

Day 176 - Mary (4th person I approached)
June 25, 2014 - Mary was sitting on a low concrete wall in the shade, under a collection of trees, on the edge of hospital property. She was wearing pyjamas, a hoodie and flip-flops. She was smoking a cigarette and looking at her phone with earphones in. I made a wide circle in front of Mary so to not startle her. She didn’t have her music on loud and heard me right away. She smiled and agreed to chat with me when I explained what I was doing.

 

Mary was born in El Paso, Texas.

“My father was in the military and I was raised on many different army bases. We moved so many times I couldn’t even tell you the number,” she said. Her father is American Dutch and her mother was Canadian First Nations.

“I am the second oldest of eight children. That meant a lot of responsibility and helping out with the younger kids,” she said.

“In school, I always seemed to be the new kid.  I went to schools that were off the military base. I got used to standing in front of the class and telling them stuff about me.” Mary’s grandfather raised her father with strict discipline.

“My grandfather was the sheriff of the town my Dad grew up in. He was a violent man, and used violence with my father when he was young. My father was very violent as well,” said Mary.

“When I was eleven years old, I got put in a foster home. My younger siblings had already gone into care. My older brother and I stayed with my dad for a while, but we ended up in care as well," she said. Mary told me that she ran away from her foster homes a lot.

“I wanted to be with my parents. I didn’t understand what was going on or why I couldn’t be at home.” I asked her if looking back, she felt it was a good thing to have been removed from the violence at home with her father.

“Absolutely. Once you break the chain, the violence stops. The next generation don’t have to suffer in the same way,” she told me. Mary got pregnant and had her first child at age 14.

“My mother is from Boston Bar (British Columbia), and I went there and spent some time with my uncle on the reserve when I was pregnant. That was my first time in BC,” she said. 

 

Upon returning to the United States, Mary went into a young mothers care program.

“I had to stay, I wanted to be with my baby. I was told that if I ran away again, they’d put my child in care,” she said. Mary left the care system at age 18. By the time she was 20, Mary had four children.

“I completed high school. I had to take some time off when I was pregnant, but I managed to finish school. Sometimes my father would come and drive me to make sure I got there,” said Mary. With her mother being First Nations, Mary applied for her Status Card.

“That enabled me to go to school in BC. I went to Kwantlen College to train to become a Medical Office Assistant. I also took Early Childhood Education courses. I didn’t really enjoy school. My father told me I had to be focussed and go to all the classes. He also told me that he’d give me $100 for every ‘A’ I got. So I worked hard and that cost him a bit of money!” she said laughing. 

 

Mary is now 35 years old. She has had four more children.

“After the first four, I didn’t have any kids for five years. Then again, every two years I had another child. Now I have eight kids. My father's thrilled. He had mostly boys and now I have seven daughters, so my Dad is happy that he has granddaughters,” she said.

“There definitely have been some tough times. My aunt and uncle have been a great support. They’ve looked after some of the kids when it’s gotten too much for me. But we’ve made it through. We’re all together again. My oldest child, my son, is 20 now and he’s everything I could have ever wanted him to be. He’s handsome, and kind and polite and smart. He’s a good young man,” said Mary.

 

I asked Mary how she was doing today.

“I’m doing ok. I’ve been in hospital for a couple of days. I had surgery about a month ago and I had an allergic reaction to the stitches. The incision got infected and it wasn’t looking so good. I’m going to be here for another couple of days. They’re giving me antibiotics through the drip. I’m just waiting for my husband to come by and see me. I want to see my babies,” she said. Mary’s youngest child is 18 months old. She shows me the names of all eight of her children tattooed on her left arm. I asked her what she did after completing her medical office assistant's course.

“I didn’t do anything. My ex-husband sued me for alimony and he won. It’s so not fair. I decided that if I wasn’t woking then I wouldn’t have any money to give him. So I’m staying home and looking after my family. It’s the best job there is. I get paid in love. Some of the sweetest sentiments I’ve ever heard have come from my children. I love my babies!” #notastranger

Day 175 - Scott

Day 175 - Scott (1st person I approached)
June 24, 2014 - Scott was sitting at a table having a coffee. He had a computer, notebook and phone all within reach. It looked like a mobile office. When I asked Scott if he’d chat with me, he looked online for The Stranger Project 2014 Facebook page, and agreed to chat.

 

Scott was born in Barrie, Ontario, the youngest of three children.

“My father was in the military so we moved around a bit, but always within the province of Ontario. My parents realized at an early age that I didn’t handle moving very well. I’ve always been a creature of habit I guess. My Dad actually turned down advancement in order to avoid another relocation. They were always supportive,” said Scott. The family lived on base at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Borden, or “Camp Borden” as it's known.

“Everything was contained on the base. I went to school there with other military kids. We had a movie theatre, shops and facilities, all behind the fence of the base. The most amazing thing was the equipment we had to play on, including a military tank that we could get inside,” said Scott.

“The housing was according to rank, so as my father got promoted, sometimes we would move a block away from where we were living. It was still on base, but the next house would be bigger than the previous one, relative to rank. I was still going to the same base school, so those moves were easy to handle. I didn’t have to make new friends and adjust all over again.” The family relocated to CFB Downsview, a suburban base in the Toronto area.

“We lived on base but I went to an off-base school. I definitely noticed a broader more diverse range of kids in school there. I think as I was getting older, dealing with puberty and finding out who I am, I spent a lot of time comparing myself to others. I had made a lot of friends and they all seemed to be more successful than I felt. I played the piano, but I wasn’t a sports team captain. I was very much an observer,” said Scott. The family moved again, this time to the Richmond Hill area, still considered a part of the Greater Toronto area.

 

When Scott was an infant, his parents bought some property that was largely inaccessible by any means other than boat.

“They took us the first year and we camped in a tent. We went back every year for the first sixteen years of my life. My mother's brother and her sister each owned property on the same lake as well. I helped my father build our cabin which became our summer home. It didn’t have any electricity or running water. My father and I built the other cabins and they had all the modern conveniences, but not ours. I learned a very good life lesson in those early summers of my childhood. A work-hard ethic that has stayed with me. It meant being the first one up in the morning, get the fire going and make the coffee. Get to work on things that needed to be done. I’ve always been a hard worker and I attribute it to those summers with my father,” said Scott.

 

Scott moved to London, Ontario to attend Western University (University of Western Ontario).

“I went to study business, psychology and a bit of music. In my final year of studying for my bachelor’s degree, I switched direction a bit. I realized that I really liked the psychology. So in my fourth year I moved away from the business and creative side of study, and went into Clinical Psychology.” Scott says.

"It's a challenging field and that made for an intense final year at Western University. I wanted to push forward and decided that getting a Masters degree wouldn’t be enough for me. Sure it can open doors, but I figured a Doctorate would open more doors. I did some research and applied to three Universities that had strong programs. I wrote to one of the Professors that I admired at UBC (University of British Columbia). I said that I was interested in having her as my mentor and guide. The selection process is tight with over 250 applicants applying for 12 places in the program. They looked at my results from Western. Even though I had only done the one year in Clinical Psychology, they were impressed, and I got accepted into the program!” said Scott.

 

"My parents came to Vancouver with me to help me get settled in to my apartment in Kitsilano. I remember that moment of saying goodbye to my parents when they were heading back to Ontario. I was the first family member to move out of province. It was a significant moment in my life. I had to make all my own decisions. I had come out to my family a couple of years earlier, but now I was socializing and making friends with other people who were gay. I felt liberated,” said Scott. Throughout his years in UBC, Scott studied hard, worked a couple of jobs and travelled in the summer months.

“I had some great opportunities with regard to working and gaining experience. I also travelled North Africa extensively, Mexico, Egypt, India, Western Europe, Thailand, Vietnam. It was that work hard ethic from my childhood that drove me. I worked hard in school, and worked hard outside of school to be able to travel during the summers,” he said.

 

After getting his Doctorate, Scott got a job right out of graduate school.

“I was working as a Clinical Psychologist at Vancouver General Hospital, working with adolescents. The work was in Cognitive Therapy and Neuropsychology. I did evaluations of patients who had epileptic seizures and weren’t responsive to medications. We evaluated the patients potential for surgery to minimize the seizures through temporal lobe resection. Essentially disconnecting the part of the brain that controlled the seizures. I would then follow their progress and the resulting outcomes of surgery. It was fascinating work,” said Scott. 

 

One day Scott went out for lunch with someone he had roomed with in University.

“My friend was working for a large telecommunications company. He mentioned that there was a position that he thought I might be interested in with his company. I didn't want a desk job in the corporate world. However this sounded like it had potential. The company were looking to hire a psychologist as an in-house support for their employees. So I applied for the position, and then left for a vacation in Egypt,” he said.

 

When Scott returned, he was invited for an interview.

“They handed me a newspaper article and asked me to read it. It was an article about computer software that was being developed in California. This software would essentially make healthcare resources directly available to employees. They asked me what I thought of this concept. I was fascinated. Advances, progress and development in the world of psychology, happen at a snail's pace. This was new and innovative. I told them I found it exciting. I was the first interviewee who thought so, and got the job,” said Scott. Part of his learning for this new role was to go to California for several weeks each year, and work directly with the software developer.

“His name is Dr Roger Gould, a leading authority in adult psychological development. I had admired his work for years and now I was working with him!” Dr Gould pioneered the use of computer-assisted and web-based therapy. (*Fact Check - see link below.) Scott wrote handbooks for Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), which were gaining in popularity.

“The handbooks really took off. An international supply company purchased them, and distribution and sales went worldwide." 

 

Seven years later, Scott was having lunch with his friend who had recommended the telecommunications role.

“His office was down the hall from a very well known company, Wilson Banwell. They made their mark contracting 2500 psychologists to companies worldwide, to support their internal EA Programs. My friend stopped into this office and introduced me to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) whose name was Robert. This man said that while we hadn’t met before he knew who I was! I couldn’t believe it. He invited me to stop by and meet with him after our lunch. Of course I went back after lunch. Robert invited me to follow him downstairs to another floor. He had rented a large office and was about to embark on another venture. He was launching digitally formatted EA Programs. He asked me what it would take to have me leave my current job and work for him. I told him he only needed to ask,” Scott said. For the next ten years Scott worked closely with Robert.

"I was able to establish what and how I wanted to work. I didn’t want to have to go into an office, I wanted shares and I wanted to be a part of the decision making process. Robert said yes to everything. I became the ‘go to’ guy for the company as a resource for all the programs, the content, the look and feel of the brand. I learned graphic design and revamped all the collateral materials. I also learned how to build websites. It really became more like a hobby than work,” said Scott.

 

About eighteen months ago, the company was sold. Scott has continued working for the new owners.

“I haven’t even met my new boss because they’re based in Ontario. There’s been a certain amount of change because I feel like I have to prove myself to the new bosses. But I’m still not going into an office. I’m actually sitting here working right now (or he was before I started to chat with Scott). The changes have introduced more structure in my role, which is okay, as long as I get to continue working online. I’m not moving anywhere,” said Scott. 

Since being in Vancouver, Scott has had two long term relationships. His first relationship lasted for eight years.

“After that ended, I was in a step class at a gym that I hadn't been to before. there was a man in the same class who caught my attention. We chatted a bit and there was this instant connection. i knew I had to get to know him. We both left the gym and I got into my car. I drove past him on the street and pulled over and went across the street to where he was. I told him that he’d probably think this was weird, but I gave him my business card and asked him to call me if he wanted to go for coffee. I got in my car, which was a green Mazda Miata and drove away. He called and we met for coffee. He’s a physician. He told he called me because the Miata was his favourite car. We’ve been together ever since. Eighteen years.” #notastranger

*Fact Check - http://bit.ly/1yM2pj7

Day 174 - Vivienne

Day 174 - Vivienne (4th person I approached)
June 23, 2014 - Vivienne was sitting outside a coffee shop when I first saw her. I couldn’t help but notice the lovely delicate blue stars tattooed behind her ears and onto the back of her neck. I asked her if she'd chat with me, and showed her my Facebook page. She asked me to give her a brief rundown of one of the stories to get an idea of what we’d be talking about. She then agreed to chat with me!

 

Vivienne was born and raised in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam.

“I have four sisters and three brothers. I’m the youngest. The oldest child, my sister, was kind of like a second mother to me, which was good, and sometimes not so good! We are a very close family,” she said. Vivienne completed high school in Saigon.

“My sister sponsored me to come to Canada when I was 16, and I moved to Guelph, Ontario when I was 20.” She had intended to go to school to become an architect.

“I enrolled in the wrong program. I thought I was going to learn about Architecture in the Engineering Construction program. It wasn’t architecture at all,” she said. Vivienne stuck with her mistake, completing three years of college before going to the University of Waterloo.

“It was important to me to complete my university education. I upgraded my courses after college and turned my diploma into a BA (bachelors degree). My parents really wanted me to go to school and as I was the youngest, I wanted to do it for them, as well as for myself. My siblings never had the opportunity to go to university,” said Vivienne.

 

“Engineering Construction is about the technical aspect of building code, structure loads and weight bearing capabilities. Ensuring all the rules are met,” Vivienne explained to me. After graduating, she moved to Toronto and worked as an Engineer in construction.

“I did that for about a year, but I really didn’t like it. I found it boring.” While on a trip to visit a friend in Seattle, Vivienne came to Vancouver for a week.

“I have always been interested in skincare and makeup. I heard that one of the best esthetics schools in Canada was here in Vancouver, so my friend and I came here to check out the school. I did a tour of the school, and fell in love with Vancouver, and decided I was going to make a change in my career,” said Vivienne. She went back to Toronto and sold her car and belongings and moved to Vancouver to study esthetics.

 

She has a boyfriend who is studying criminology.

“I find that very interesting. The psychology and the mind of criminals,” she told me. With three months left of school, Vivienne has started the examinations at school.

“I had one today, and another two later this week. Today’s test was easy.” I asked if she had studied a lot.

“No, not at all,” she said laughing. She figures it was easy because she had learned everything she needed to know for this test. Vivienne plans to work in a hotel spa for a few years and then eventually open her own business. I asked Vivienne how her parents felt about the change of direction after so much schooling to become an engineer.

“They were very supportive. I had done what was important to them by going to university. I tried working in that field and didn’t like it. They told me ‘This is your time now' and that I should chase my dreams.” #notastranger

Day 173 - Christopher

Day 173 - Christopher (2nd person I approached)
June 22, 2014 - When I first spotted Christopher, he was sitting on a park bench by himself, talking on his phone. As I walked past him, I heard him say ‘Goodbye’ to whoever he was talking with. I turned around and went back to ask him if he’d chat with me.

“Sure, I’ll talk with you. It sounds like a great project,” he said.

 

Christopher was born in Vancouver, British Columbia (BC), at the Centennial Pavilion, part of the Vancouver General Hospital facility.

“I grew up in the Kerrisdale area (a neighbourhood of Vancouver). I have one sister that I grew up with,” he says. Christopher and his sister were both adopted. They are not related by birth.

“From as young as we were able to understand, our adoptive parents told us we were adopted. We were chosen. They really wanted us, and that made us feel special. We grew up in an honest, loving home and our parents were always very transparent about everything with us,” he said. Christopher played a lot of sports in school.

“I played any and all sports. Running, soccer, baseball, football, you name it, I played it. I was into sports, not a specific sport.” He did well enough in school.

“In high-school I started to enjoy myself a bit. Partying and having a good time. I didn’t apply myself as much as I did in my earlier days at school,” he said. Christopher still managed to graduate.

“I was probably a part of the last generation that didn’t automatically go to college or university. It seems to be a given that that is the path most students take now. I went to work right after finishing school,” said Christopher.

 

His father was working in real estate and had a background in property development. Christopher wanted to learn from the ground up, and started by working in house construction.

“I wanted to know as much as I could. Learning about real estate by knowing what is under the skin so to speak. My father and I worked on a few development projects together. Then I moved into real estate. I’ve been doing real estate for some 27 years now,” Christopher says.

"I love what I do and I get to do it here in Vancouver. Why would I want to be anywhere else? We’ve got the water, the beaches and the mountains. It’s such a beautiful city. And on sunny days like today, it’s perfect,” he said. Christopher has been engaged a couple of times, but never married.

“I haven’t given up yet,” he says, laughing.

 

About 15 years ago, Christopher’s sister suggested that they each look for their birth parents.

“I wrote to Vital Statistics with all the relevant information. About four months later, I received a letter with all the information. My birth mothers name and the name used when I was born. It was all in my mother’s handwriting,” said Christopher. His sister wasn’t able to get any information about her birth family.

“I waited for about three months before making contact. I pulled out a phone book. My mother's maiden name was an unusual one, so it was easy to track down a number. I called and reached my uncle - my mother’s brother. I told him I was a friend of his sister and that we had gone to school together. I said I lived out of town and was here visiting and was hoping to connect with her. He told me her married name and I looked that up and found it as well,” said Christopher.

“I called and she answered and I told her what my name was and when and where I was born. Of course, she was surprised. I had a few months to prepare for this call. She wasn’t expecting it. She was very polite and calm and said she would have to make a couple of calls and asked if she could contact me in a few days.” They met shortly after that.
 

“She knew who I was immediately when she saw me. I found out that she was only seventeen when I was born and that was just too young for her to feel that she could look after me. It was also the late 50's and times were very different then. Her and my birth father had been high-school sweethearts. They continued dating and ended up marrying and having three more children together. So I found out that I had two younger sisters and one younger brother. My brother and I are carbon copies of each other. That’s how she knew who I was as soon as she saw me. He’s the country boy version and I’m the city boy version,” said Christopher.

"My adoptive mother had passed away by this time. My adoptive father thought it was just incredibly wonderful that we had reconnected. He was over the moon. He’s gone now too, but we got along very well. We’ve all spent Christmases together. My birth parents, my adoptive father and all the siblings,” he said, with pride in his voice.

“We never had any sibling rivalry between my natural siblings and there's a genuine bond and connection between us. My mother said her observation was that the 'pecking order' changed when I came into the family. She said things just seemed to naturally settle down. My sisters and brothers had heard a little bit about me before we met, I think an Aunt had let it slip, but they didn’t know the whole story. My mother said she often thought about me, but didn’t want to disturb my life if I might not have known about being adopted. It’s not always such a great story,” said Christopher. 

 

I thanked him for sharing such a wonderful story and for being so open. Christopher told me

“I’m happy to tell that story. I'm very lucky to have met my mother after all those years. I’m proud of my background. I was comfortable with my life and happy with how I’d grown up. You have to be okay with who you are when seeking out answers. Things don’t always go as we might hope. I just had dinner with everyone last night, for my nephews birthday. But I love my story, I’m proud of if, and I’ll tell it as often as I can.” #notastranger

Day 172 - Tanya

Day 172 - Tanya (2nd person I approached)
June 21, 2014 - Bending rules. I’ve always been pretty good at it. I was near the Pacific Central Station at Main Street & Terminal Avenue. This is where trains and busses depart from and arrive in Vancouver. It sits on the edge between new high-rise condos on one side of the street, and great poverty on the other side. Tanya actually approached me.

“Excuse me Sir, I wonder if you could help me out with any change you might have. Anything would be helpful,” she said. I rarely have cash on me. And today, I didn’t even have any bank cards with me. I told her I was sorry that I didn't have any cash.

"Thanks anyway," she says smiling softly. I kept walking. And then I turned around and went back, and asked Tanya if she’d chat with me.

“Sure, but I really need to get $14. I’m trying to get a bus at 6:30,” she said politely. I asked if we could chat while she continued asking for money.

 

Tanya was born on the Walpole Island Indian Reserve in southwestern Ontario.

“I have two older brothers and one younger sister. One of my brothers has passed away so there’s only three of us now,” said Tanya, then listing the ages of her siblings. She was nervously pulling on the sleeve of a sweatshirt tied around her waist. I asked if she grew up on the reserve.

“Well I lived there until I was seven. But I don't have memories of very much before I was seven years old,” she told me.

“That’s when I was adopted. I remember being in the court and the judge asking us if we wanted these people to adopt us. The judge actually asked us if we would be ok to go live with them. No one had asked us before what we wanted. We said yes,” said Tanya. The family had adopted all four children together.

“They are my mother and father. When I speak about my parents, it’s them. They took all of us in, and raised us and looked after us. They kept us together.” While she chatted with me, Tanya continued to look at people passing us by, hoping to make eye contact. Everyone kept their eyes on the ground, or looking directly ahead. No one looked at us. 

 

The children went to live in North Bay, Ontario with their new family.

“I did well in school. My mother put me in a french immersion school. It kind of pissed me off. None of the other kids had to go to french immersion. But it was because I did so well at school. I was a pretty smart kid I guess,“ she said. We sat down on a nearby bench.

“School was okay. I stayed in french immersion for all of my grades,” Tanya said. After she completed school Tanya went to work for her parents who own a plant nursery in North Bay.

“I worked there for ten years. Learned all about running a business and working with plants and helping my mother. I worked hard for years. It was good, I liked the work,” she said. 

 

After reconnecting with her birth mother, Tanya decided to move to Vancouver.

“I tracked her down and it didn't go well. At all. It was a shit show really. I didn’t know anyone here in Vancouver, and my boyfriend suggested we move out here, so I came to Vancouver with him. That relationship didn’t last though. We kept trying, but things just didn’t work out between us. We do have two beautiful and very smart daughters together though,” she told me. Even though the relationship didn’t work out, Tanya and her ex-boyfriend have remained friends.

“He has my daughters just now. Things got a little messed up and about two months ago, he offered to take the girls with him to Kelowna. That's where he lives now. I’m unemployed and it was just difficult. I’m stuck right now. But as soon as I get a few things sorted out, the girls will be coming home with me again. BC (British Columbia) Housing is trying to help us out. It all just takes time. So meanwhile the girls are with their Dad,” said Tanya. Her daughters are three and two years old. She smiles when she speaks about them. She continues pulling on that same sleeve of her sweatshirt.

“I’m trying to catch a bus at 6:30pm to go to Kelowna to see my girls. But I’m short $14 for the bus fare. I feel bad asking for money, but I have no other way to get there, and I need to see them,” she says, looking around for passersby. We are invisible.

 

I take Tanya’s picture and thank her for her time. She shakes my hand and smiles.

“It was nice talking with you. I hope you have a nice afternoon,” she says. I start to walk away and Tanya approaches a woman crossing the street toward her.

“Excuse me miss, do you think you,” is all she gets out. The woman doesn’t even look at her, doesn’t stop and gives no reply. Tanya keeps her head up. I have one more question for her, although I feel awkward asking. I don’t want to make incorrect assumptions. I’m sure I know the answer, but I want to be able to say that I asked and that we talked about it. I tell Tanya I have one more thing to ask about.

“Yeah, for sure,” she says. I tell her why I’m asking; it's about assumptions people make under these circumstances. I ask Tanya if she has any substance abuse issues or drinking problems. She shakes her head, and looks me right in the eye.

”No, I don’t have any drinking problems and I don’t do drugs,” she says. My assumption had been right, twofold.

“That’s the thing when you ask people for help. The only thing people do say to me, if they say anything that is, ‘I don’t want to give you my money so you can go spend it on drugs.’ I don’t do drugs. I’m just stuck. I just want to see my children.” #notastranger

Day 171 - Chris

Day 171 - Chris (2nd person I approached)
June 20, 2014 - Chris was wearing what looked to be hospital scrubs, when I approached him. He asked how long I needed to chat, and then said he had time. I asked if he was on break from work.

“No, I start at 7pm. I’m just filling time waiting. I like to get there at least 30 minutes early,” he said. It was 6pm. Clearly he’s dedicated.

 

Chris was born and raised in Port Alberni, at the head of the Alberni Inlet on Vancouver Island, British Columbia (BC). His father is Dutch, and his mother is from the Philippines.

“I have an older sister. She’s 15 months older than me. We got along pretty well as kids, but like most siblings, it’s gotten better as we’ve gotten older,” he said. In Grade 5 the local school boundaries were redrawn and Chris had to change schools.

“It was ok, there were other kids I knew from the first school who lived on the same side of town that I did, so I knew other kids already. In Junior high we all switched schools again, which meant I saw the other kids from the first elementary school I went to,” he said. Chris had a particular liking for sciences and math.

“I remember competing in the Provincial Math Finals and I only got one question wrong. To this day I remember that question. I probably couldn’t even do that math anymore, but I remember that question. I really liked Chemistry as well,” said Chris.

 

When it came time to go to university, Chris made a conscious decision to leave the Island.

“A lot of my friends went to UVic (University of Victoria) because they wanted to stay on the Island. I wanted to explore and venture out into a bigger city. I also was interested in Pharmacology, and there wasn’t a Pharmacology school at UVic. So I moved to Vancouver and went to UBC (University of British Columbia),” he said.

“When I started I was taking General Sciences. I thought that as I liked chemistry in high school, I’d like to go further with that. I was able to go back home during the summer and worked in a Pharmacy. There's an organization at UBC called iCON that helps students find volunteer work to gain experience in relevant fields. I did volunteer work in a Seniors care home as well. I was considering becoming a pharmacologist. Organic Chemistry kicked my ass,” said Chris, laughing while looking like he was going to curl up into a fetal ball of anxiety.

“After two years, I switched to BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology) and enrolled in the Nursing program.”

 

The Nursing program didn’t allow any time for Chris to go back to Port Alberni. For the next three and half years, Chris lived in a basement suite in Vancouver and went to school full-time.

“I was able to transfer some of the credits from UBC toward my nursing program. I got credit for the biology that I had taken, so the two years at UBC were still to my advantage,” he said. After completing the nursing program, Chris decided to take some time off.

“I had just put in five and a half years of school, and I wanted a break. I didn’t really do anything. It was time to just relax and take things easy. After two months off, I started to look for a job. It was harder than I thought. It took me another three months to find work, so in the end, I had five months off after school.” Chris got a job working at a local hospital.

“I’m working in the Neurological Sciences ward. We’re looking after patients who have had brain surgery, or trauma because of injury or disease. I’ve been on this ward for over two years now. It’s an amazing team, I learn every day and it’s a very supportive environment,” said Chris. His girlfriend is an Architect. They’ve been seeing one another for about four months.

 

Even though Chris is working hard and paying off his student loans, he’s already thinking about his future.

“I’ve been thinking that after paying off my debt from five years of school, somewhere down the road, I might go back to school. UVic has a double Masters program in Nursing and Health Sciences Informatics. That’s four years,” he says.

“I’d maybe have to move to Victoria, but nowadays you can do a lot via distance learning. We’ll see.” Informatics seems to be the new buzz term in health care. I asked Chris what it means in this instance.

"It’s looking at how we deliver health care. Simplified, it’s delivering care utilizing technology. So instead of having a patient's chart on paper on a clipboard at the end of their bed, it might be on an iPad, or at least in digital format. It’s about the science of administration. There’s opportunities for going further into administration and the set-up of care, the planning. And research as well,” says Chris. We agree that a double Masters program is a lot of work.

“Yeah, it would mean another four years of school, and more student loans. It’s recommended that you not work at all while in the program. It’s that intense.” #notastranger

Day 170 - Yasmine

Day 170 - Yasmine (1st person I approached)
June 19, 2014 - Yasmine was finishing her work lunch break when I approached her. Her eyes widened when I told her I was a writer, and I couldn’t quite figure out what that reaction was. I explained what I’m working on, and wondered if she’d chat with me. She quickly said she would, but that she only had ten minutes left on her break. I set my intention on getting her story before she had to go back to work. I scored a bonus point for spelling her name correctly.

“Thank. You! No one ever puts the ‘e’ on the end!”

 

Yasmine’s parents are both originally from Cameroon, in west Central Africa.

“My parents met in Cameroon, and then both came to Vancouver to study. They ended up in Paris, France. That’s where I was born,” she said. Yasmine is an only child, telling me

“It didn’t make any difference to me. I mean you don’t miss what you don’t have. I had lots of friends, so it was okay being an only child.” Her parents separated when she was two years old.

“My father went back to Cameroon and my mother came back to Canada. I went to Cameroon with my father,” said Yasmine. She lived with her father until the age of six.

“My mother thought it was time I came to live with her. She had moved to Montreal, and we lived there for a while, before going to Ontario. That’s where I learned to speak English. I had been speaking only french before living there. Moving around meant I missed my friends, but it didn’t take me long to make new ones,” she said. 

 

Yasmine and her mother came to Vancouver when she was ten years old.

“I went to a public Francophone school in Kitsilano. I’m fluent in French and English now, but here in Vancouver I speak more English than French,” she told me. I asked Yasmine if there was anything that she did in school that stood out for her, or interested her still.

“Well, I liked writing. That’s why when you came over and told me you are a writer, I thought that was cool. I started writing when I was in Grade five. I like to write short stories and poems. I write a lot of things for my friends,” she said. Yasmine is going to school part-time.

“I’m going to Langara College just now, taking Creative Writing. I’d like to go on to get my Associates degree in Communications,” said Yasmine.

“Right now I’m working two part time jobs as well. I need to be making money to pay the bills and I’m saving for school.”

 

Surrounded with friends who are artists, actors and writers, Yasmine would like one day to form a production company.

“I’d like to be able to work with people I know. They’re mostly all artists, and it would be great to be able to hire people I know and get them work,” she said. I asked Yasmine what she wanted to do, once she has completed all her schooling.

“I want to work in television, as a writer. I don’t have any particular area that I’m aiming for. Comedy, a series or movies. I just want to be working as a writer. I tend to think of and look at daily life as a television show. The beauty of fiction is that it heightens and highlights the beautiful moments of human life.” #notastranger

Day 169 - Monique

Day 169 - Monique (3rd person I approached)
June 18, 2014 - The first person I approached, Ricardo, was visiting from Colombia. He was expecting a phone call from his parents, and said we’d have to end our conversation when they called. We decided it would be best not to chat today.

“That’s too bad, though. It sounds very pleasant!” he said. The second person started with the classic ‘I’m not that interesting,' which often precedes fascinating stories. However, she didn’t want her picture taken.

 

Monique was born in Vancouver, British Columbia (BC).

“I grew up in the Kitsilano area, pretty much in the same house. I have two older brothers and one older sister. I’m the youngest. There’s only five years between the oldest to youngest, so yeah, we’ve always been pretty close,” she said. I remarked that it must have been a lot of work for her mother. Monique replied,

“Back then it wasn’t so unusual for a family to have four kids. Nowadays it seems the average family is two kids.” She was popular in school.

“I had a lot of friends, and definitely enjoyed the social aspect of school. I did okay with my work. My parents placed a lot of importance on education, and I had to pass things in order to graduate. I tried playing soccer in school, but I wasn’t really that good. I was more interested in hanging out with my friends,” she said.

 

After high school, Monique went to Emily Carr College of Art & Design here in Vancouver.

“I have been drawing since I was a little kid. I used anything I could get my hands on, crayons, pencils, charcoal. My parents always encouraged me to draw. They’re European and I think most Europeans have an appreciation for art. It was something they nurtured and always encouraged,” she said.

“I liked drawing animals. I found them to be more interesting than people. I would draw usually from a photograph or picture that I had seen.” The program at Emily Carr College was four years long.

“The first two years it’s all about the foundation work. Then in the second two years, we got to play and experiment and try out different things. Going into art school I wasn’t sure what medium or element that I wanted to explore. I liked trying out various things. I became interested in silk screen printing,” said Monique.

“I moved from silk screening to etching in metal. I liked copper but zinc was more forgiving. I mean all metals are hard to work with and essentially unforgiving. I etched using a scribe or finding the right way to use chemicals to achieve the end result. Experimenting to achieve different results. I used a lot of images of animals in my metal work as well,” said Monique. When she graduated, Emily Carr students were awarded diplomas.

“It’s changed and art school actually counts in a bigger way now. You can get a degree at art school. When I graduated, I got a diploma.”

 

Four years of art school is expensive.

“When I finished college, I had some pretty big debt to carry and I needed to work to start paying my student loans. I got a job at a restaurant and learned to cook,” she said. Monique has worked at the same restaurant as a cook now for over twenty years.

“I like the people and the job. It pays the bills and I can do the other things I want to do,” she told me. In her spare time, Monique is playing with photography these days.

“I’m doing digital photography, using a camera. I don’t have a smart phone, I’m old school. I still have a land line," she said.

"I like taking pictures of all kinds of things. I don’t always have a camera with me. I only bring it with me when I’m going out to take pictures. I enjoy photographing animals of course. Animals know when their picture is being taken. They get that ‘oh you want to photograph me?’ look! They know what you’re doing,” she said with conviction.

“I keep collecting images and I don’t know exactly what I’ll do with them, but I keep taking pictures,” Monique said.

 

I asked Monique if she felt she was a good photographer.

“I’m alright, I think. That’s been my constant struggle. Allowing myself to accept and acknowledge that I’m a good artist. Art is like doing drugs but it’s not illegal. You finish one thing to get the feeling of satisfaction and then you're unsatisfied until the next time. Then you work hard to try and repeat that same high.” #notastranger

Day 168 - Marion

Day 168 - Marion (1st person I approached)
June 17, 2014 - Marion didn’t hesitate to say yes when I asked her to chat. I noticed that her shoes, tights, skirt, coat and scarf were all bright, colourful, and coordinated. I remarked how lovely and colourful her outfit was.

“Oh thank you. I feel that colour invigorates me. I like wearing bright colours, it feels good,” she said. 

Marion was born in the mediaeval town of Chepstow in Wales.

“My father was in agriculture, though not farming. He owned a lot of property that had farms, and had tenants on the land. He always corrected us when we said he was a farmer. ‘I’m a landowner’ he would say. We lived in a 16th century house that had been in the family for generations. My parents were classists, and regarded themselves as better than others based on wealth. I felt they were unnecessarily snobbish about it. I was definitely the black sheep of the family. They voted Conservative and I voted Labour. And I made no secret of it either,” she said. Marion has an older brother and sister, and had a twin brother, who passed away.

 

After finishing secondary school, Marion moved to London, England to attend London University.

“I enrolled in a social studies program. I was always interested in social studies. Although I didn’t know what I wanted to be or do,” she said. In her first year at university Marion met and fell in love with a fellow student.

“He was from Pakistan of Persian descent and was Muslim. We wanted to get married, but my parents wouldn’t give us permission, so we had a Muslim wedding. As soon as I turned 21 and didn’t need my parents permission, we got married again at the Registry office,” said Marion.

“Some people had a hard time understanding why I wanted to marry him. We lost some friends and I lost a few family members as well. We were in love and it didn’t matter.”

 

Marion and her husband were both adventurers.

“In our third year of marriage, we decided to shake things up a bit. We moved to Toronto, Canada. It was an opportunity to get away from the class system and the attitudes and behaviours that came with it. We were young and tried to live outside the box,” she said, with a big smile. Within four years of being married, they had three children.

“I was a stay-at-home mother, and my husband had been studying to become a barrister when we met at university. He hadn't finished his degree when we left for Canada, she said. Within a year of being in Toronto, another plan came to fruition.

“I was looking for the next adventure and had wanted to go to India,” she said. "I took the children with me to Pakistan. My husband was going to wrap things up in Toronto, and then go back to England, complete his degree, then we would all go to India. It didn’t quite happen that way though,” she told me.

 

“Travelling alone with three children was perhaps not the wisest idea. We landed in Dhaka (formerly romanized as Dacca), and from there we boarded a train to Chittagong, which took 14 hours. My husband’s brother met me and the children in Chittagong and we went to Shamshenga, which is where we were to stay. One of the worst cyclones to ever hit East Pakistan happened on November 12, 1970. The Bhola cyclone. We were lucky that we were not staying in the Dhaka area. We were further inland and in a solidly built house as well,” said Marion (*Fact Check - see link below)

 

In March of the following year, a revolutionary independence war was becoming increasingly violent. The war pitted West and East Pakistan against one another, and lasted for nine months resulting in East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh.

“Because of the war, my husband decided to stay in Toronto to see what happened. As things got worse, he wasn’t able to travel to Pakistan, and I wasn’t able to get out. We were staying with some of my husband’s family in Shamshenga, which is in the Sylhet region. It’s known for the tea that is grown there,” said Marion.

“One night in September everyone went to bed, and when I got up in the morning, the family had left. They hadn’t said anything at all. I found out later that they had fled in the middle of the night and made their way to the Philippines. I never saw them again. The only people left there were the tea pickers and staff. I was very scared, and hurt that they would just leave. But I also understand that with my three children, we would have been a liability,” said Marion.

“I didn’t know what to do. People were dying and the rebels were getting closer. I had met a woman that lived nearby who taught me how to play Mahjong. She worked for the World Health Organization, but she too had left. A couple of days later, this little old man that I had never seen before showed up. He didn’t speak English but he knew my name, and he kept saying this woman's name over and over. He wanted me to get in his car with him. I decided that I had to trust him and sure enough, he drove us to Chittagong were we were able to get a train to get out. My friend had sent him to help get us. We flew back to Wales. I just needed to be somewhere safe, and with my family. I still feel guilty about taking three children on that trip, but of course I didn’t know what was going to happen.” Marion said.

 

After spending three months in Wales, Marion and the children returned to Toronto and her husband.

“He had given up the apartment we had in preparation for him going to England, but in the end he didn’t go or finish his degree. The money he was going to use for England, he wired to us to fly out to Wales. So we were back to square one again. But we were together and we were safe,” she said. They rented a hauling vehicle, packed up and drove across Canada to relocate to Vancouver.

 

“The sense of adventure inspired us to move. A new start. The climate was better, it has mountains and the rain reminded me of Wales. The weather in Vancouver is quite similar to Chepstow,” she said. Marion and her husband parted ways after 23 years of marriage.

“The children were all grown up and I decided to go back to London. I was working at Harrod’s and was settling in. Then my mother got sick and I went back to Wales to spend time with her. I met a Welsh man and fell in love. We got engaged, but in time I just knew it wasn’t right for me. I had been in the UK (United Kingdom) for five years and missed my children. I wanted to come back to Vancouver to be near them. So I broke off the engagement and came back,” she said. Marion maintained a good relationship with her children's father, until he passed away some years ago. She met and married a Canadian man and they took a vacation back to Wales to show her husband her birthplace.

“The house I had grown up in had been sold after my parents died, and it was now a hotel. We made a reservation to stay there, but I didn’t tell them it had once been my home. When we checked in, we went to our room, and wouldn't you know it, it was the room that had been my bedroom as a little girl growing up,” said Marion. Her second husband passed away six years ago. 

 

“There’s always going to be a little bit of the young girl in me,” said Marion. Her great grandmother used to play the harp and as a young girl, Marion played piano.

“I like to learn about things. I’m in no way a musician, but I play the piano and I play the harp as well. I have two harps, one is fairly utilitarian, just for learning on. And then I waited eighteen months for a harp that I had custom built for me in Japan. Every winter and every summer the strings on that one break. The strings on the utilitarian harp don’t break and they’re both made of mahogany. But the one from Japan is made from Japanese mahogany and it’s affected by the humidity. I do enjoy playing them.” I asked Marion what she had been doing when I asked her to chat.

“I was playing mahjong, on my iPad,” Then Marion picked up her iPad and showed me a picture.

“I waited for this as well. It took me over two years to decide to get her. This is my little dog. She’s a Shih-Poo, a cross between a Shih Tzu and a Poodle. Her name is Bronwyn. It’s a good Welsh name.” #notastranger

*Fact Check - http://wxch.nl/1iFC1NI

Day 167 - Farhang

Day 167 - Farhang (1st person I approached)
June 16, 2014 - Farhang was willing to chat with me, at first. I showed him The Stranger Project 2014 Facebook page and explained what I was doing. I told him I write stories about the people that I chat with, take their pictures and post them on a few social media sites. Farhang asked me the question I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me.

“How do I know you’re the person that this page belongs to? Maybe we should schedule some time to talk tomorrow while I check on this page of yours.” I was able to show him photographs I have on my phone of Johnathon, Don, Hanna, Natalie and David, all people that I have chatted with over the last few days.

“Ok, so you have some pictures that match with the page. Tell me a story about one of these people,” he said. I told him a brief synopsis about Johnathon.  Then I started to tell him about Don and his time in the residential school.

“Shit. He told you that? You must be a good guy if he felt ok to tell you this. Let’s talk then.” Farhang put down his newspaper and we began chatting.

 

His parents are originally from Iran.

“My parent’s are of the Bahá'í faith. In Iran there is some hostility toward those of the Bahá’í faith. Even though it is the second largest religion (after Islam) in Iran, and it’s roots were established in part, in Iran. My parents left to become pioneers and carry forth the Bahá’í faith, and moved to India. There was of course, political turmoil in India. The country divided, leaving my parents on land that became a part of Pakistan,” said Farhang. He was born in the city of Quetta. He is the oldest son, with two older sisters and one younger brother. His name has two meanings, one meaning dictionary, the other meaning culture or ‘good breeding.’ 

 

We talked for a while about the Bahá’í faith.

“It is a religion that is relatively new, started some 170 years ago,” said Farhang. He went on to tell me that in any one community the followers elect nine people to be the governing board of that area. And then there are nine elected members that represent the country, say Canada. They look after all the smaller communities as one collective. Then there is the world-wide Universal House of Justice that are nine elected members. The number ‘nine’ is very important to the faith. Using the letters of the name "Bahá’í" and attributing a numeric value to each of them, the combined total is nine, which as the highest single-digit number, symbolizing completeness. There is a respect of confidentiality within the faith. One member of the Bahá’í faith can not identify another member to those outside of the faith. Their beliefs are carried forward by word of mouth. The Bahá’í faith is centred around three tenets. Unity of god, an understanding that there is only one god, unity of religion, or one religion for everyone, and unity of humanity, we are all equal.

“You wouldn't want to have a rose garden with only red roses,” said Farhang.

“You want to have one garden filled with different colours and types of rose.” The purpose of the faith ultimately is a belief in the spiritual unity of all humankind. Their belief’s and intentions are focussed on prayer, reflection and service to humanity. Farhang has tended to the garden of his church for almost two decades now.

 

After completing high school, Farhang went to university and studied Civil Engineering.

“I went to university for four years, and then that was it. I wanted out of Pakistan. I wanted to carry the word of the Bahá’í faith to others, just as my parents had done. So I said goodbye to my family and moved to Saudi Arabia,” Farhang said.

“I got work with a excellent company. They treated me well and I was making good money. I stayed there for two years,” he said. 

 

“I wanted to go to Africa. I tried going to Kenya, but the timing just didn’t work for me,” he said.

“So I moved to Uganda. This was during the time toward the end of Idi Amin’s regime and the civil war that was tearing the country apart. People on the streets were killing each other, but I wasn’t considered a threat because I was deemed to be ‘white’ even though I am dark skinned. To the Ugandan's involved in the fighting, I was a tourist, identified by my lighter skin colour. They would kill a fellow Ugandan just to steal their clothes, or their shoes. They paid no respect to the bodies. They’d kill someone, steal their clothes and leave them where they fell. Many times I’d be on one of the small transit buses and it would be pulled over and inspected by soldiers. I would show my passport and they'd let me be. But they would steal the personal belongings of other’s on the bus. Sometimes the other passengers would try and pass their valuables to me knowing that the soldiers wouldn’t take it from me. But you could never know for sure what they might or might not do. It was terrifying,” said Farhang. He stayed in Uganda for two years, leaving because the danger and violence was becoming a real threat to anyone and everyone. 

 

This time, Kenya did work out for Farhang.

“I got an invitation for an interview with a company looking for an engineer. I knew where the office was and I decided to walk, even thought it was great distance away. I found myself walking down a road that had a fence at the end of it and I could see two (military) tanks in a compound. Suddenly some armed guards came running toward me. They accused me of spying on them, and I was taken to an office and interrogated. I gave them the contact information of the person I was going to see for the interview, but they didn’t believe me. They continued to accuse me of spying on them. I was terrified that this would be the end for me. I happened to know the American ambassador in this region, through the Bahá’í. I managed to convince them to let me contact her and somehow, she was able to secure my release. It was the worst twelve hours of my life,” said Farhang.  When he eventually did sit down for that job interview, they gave him the position almost immediately.

“I got a good salary, a company car and a two security guards,” he said.

 

During his travels, Farhang had kept in touch with a woman that he had met back at university in Pakistan. She was a student at the same time as Farhang, coming originally from India and of Iranian heritage. She joined him in Kenya and they got married. Farhang ended up getting a job with the UN (United Nations).

"I was working on a project building small schools all over Kenya. I would travel around overseeing the construction, completing inspections and then write reports for the UN," he told me. He and his wife left Kenya after being there for seven years.

“I had been renewing my paperwork every year and everything was good each time. Then I was told for some reason that was never fully made clear to me, that they would no longer be able to renew my paperwork."

 

Through the UN, Farhang was offered a position that would move him from Kenya to the city of Whitehorse, in the Yukon.

“Seriously. From Kenya where it was minimum 25C to minus 25C. That was a drastic change. I had never been to anywhere as cold. We arrived at Vancouver airport to change planes. The people helping us to relocate couldn’t believe what we were wearing. They gave us Parkas and big knee-high winter boots. I remember the first time wearing the boots and I was indoors. I could hear a strange noise as I walked around. I had never been in a building constructed of wood before,” he said laughing. Farhang had learned to speak a little English when he was in university. A coworker in Whitehorse jokingly told him that saying ‘fuck you’ (which he had never heard before) was an informal greeting for people. He used it one day when walking into a meeting and was quickly told that he had been duped.

“I made a decision then and there that I would learn to improve my English. They gave me a hard time about that for months,” he said shaking his head. Farhang's job was overseeing parts of the reconstruction of the Alaska Highway.

“We stayed in Whitehorse for two years and then it was time to leave. It was just too cold!” he said.

 

Relocating to Vancouver in 1987, Farhang and his wife have one son who is now 21 years old. Farhang has his own geothermal engineering company.

“I’m involved in residential construction. I ensure that the ground and foundations of new houses are suitably prepared and built to code. I prefer to work in the residential construction and not big office buildings or retail spaces," he said. Farhang is on a personal mission to speak to 9000 thousand people in six months about the Bahá’í faith.

“When talking to people about my faith, it has to be done walking, and not using a car or transit, so I am out walking everyday. I have walked from Vancouver to Burnaby and one day walked for eight hours non-stop. It is my own personal challenge,” he said, though I did note the number nine being a part of his goal. I asked about his family.

“I have a wonderful relationship with my son. He is a good man. And my wife and I have been married for 35 years. I am very fortunate. Many people in our culture have arranged marriages. My wife and I are special, and we are lucky. We married for love. It is a love marriage.” #notastranger

Day 166 - Johnathon

Day 166 - Johnathon (1st person I approached)
June 15, 2014 - Johnathon was walking down the street toward me when I spotted him. I had a destination in mind, but as he passed me, I thought I’d ask him to chat. My hesitation was because of him carrying his child. My interest was because of him carrying his child. I explained what I was doing, and he agreed to chat. He was walking home and rather than keep him and his daughter standing on a noisy street, I offered to walk with him towards his home. We meandered our way down toward quieter side streets. Ironically enough, we ran into Mary from Day 135, and we stopped for a minute and chatted with her. I introduced Mary to Johnathon and without missing a beat, she asked if his daughter was my grandchild. It wasn’t until about 30 minutes later that I realized that that would mean she might have implied Johnathon was my son! I’ll laugh about that for many years to come! As we walked, Johnathon's daughter was enjoying an Arrowroot cookie, and seemed fascinated with my beard. 

 

Johnathon was born in Edmonton, Alberta. He is the middle child of three.

“I wouldn’t say we’re close, no, but we are respectful and civil with each other,” he said.

“I’m definitely the black sheep of the family.”  Johnathon did all of his elementary and high school education in Edmonton.

“I’m still friends with a few people that I went to school with. I certainly know people when I go back to visit, but I’m not in contact with everyone that I know from school.” He didn’t care very much for school.

“I struggled to go every day. I didn’t care for most of the teachers, I didn’t like the environment and I didn’t like the subjects. I remember being in social studies, and not paying that much attention. I figured that if I was ever in a situation where the conversation was about Versailles or World War ll, that I wouldn’t want to be involved in that conversation anyway. I didn’t see the point. Now as an adult, I realize how myopic and narrow that viewpoint was. I’m doing what I can to broaden my understanding and knowledge of things about the world. I know now how important history and cultural awareness is,” he said. We walked past a red brick wall and I asked Johnathon if we could stop and take his picture. Done. His daughter was getting that 'time for a nap' look in her eyes.

 

After high school, Johnathon told me he

“fled from Edmonton, going as far away as I could while still remaining in Canada.” He moved to Halifax to go to university.

“My entire reasoning for going to Halifax pivoted entirely around a woman. I met her when I was 18, she was five years older than me. She was finishing her undergrad degree in accounting. She was very intelligent and funny and was a big influence on me. She encouraged me to use my mind, to expand my experience and guided my decisions toward going to school and learning,” he said. Johnathon took her advice to heart, leaving their relationship behind in Edmonton so that he could go to school.

“I studied business and finance. I spent five years in university. And then I fled from Halifax, and moved to Vancouver,” he said, smiling that he had used the verb ‘fled’ again. His daughter was doing her best to not fall asleep.

 

Taking a train across Canada, Johnathon had a backpack, and a guitar.

“One of my friends from high-school was living in Vancouver studying for his Masters degree. I called and asked if I could crash on his couch for a couple of nights. When I arrived, I think he realized I was here for longer than that,” he said.

“I spent a couple of months kind of stumbling around, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I wanted something that was a good fit for me. I got involved with a start-up company, developing a chai base. I learned by doing. I became the brewmaster. My partner was 20 years older and he made the financial decisions and I created and developed the product,” he said.

“Like any creative project, it’s trial and error. Getting burned by steam from the mixture, tasting something that is completely different than I hoped for, getting the chemistry correct. It’s like any art form, when creating something the environment and space are equally as important as the product. I found the right base for our product and then we launched. I was fully committed to the brand and gave it everything I had,” said Johnathon. 

 

After being the brewmaster for seven years, it was time to do something else.

“I was burned out. What started as a joy and that I loved every minute of, was no longer satisfying at all. So I knew it was time to move on. I had to get back out there and discover what I wanted to do next. Find myself all over again,” he said. Johnathon had by this time gotten married. He and his wife had just had their first child, a boy.

“The plan was that I wanted to be a stay-at-home Dad, for a year. I did some small contracts related to my business degree, picked up some work here and there. Then one year went to two years,” he said. 

 

His daughter was asleep. We had walked right past his home, and Johnathon said

“This is great that she’s fallen asleep. I’m going to keep walking while she naps.” And so we continued chatting. Johnathon and his wife have been married for five years, and have two children. His wife is from Germany, and on their honeymoon, they travelled around Germany together, by bicycle.

“I'm trying to learn to speak German before my son does, but it’s not happening. He’s three years old and speaks more German than I do. I read him bedtime stories in German, but to be honest, I haven’t a clue what it is I’m reading. People tell me I have good accent, but I’d like to know what I’m actually saying!” Johnathon stops and looks at his daughter, who is fast asleep. He stands still, just looking down at her.

“This is my favourite place. Right here, when she’s asleep and her head is at that angle, and I can just watch her sleep. I love this.” I took another picture.

“This one is perfect for Father’s Day.” #notastranger

Day 165 - Don

Day 165 - Don (1st person I approached)
June 14, 2014 - I was walking in a local mall, heading outside through the food court area when I saw Don sitting by himself. He was listening to some music on an old portable cassette player. When he said he’d chat with me I sat down next to him. Don got out of his seat and went to a bag of his and said

“If we’re going to chat, I have to get my juice.” He pulled out a large plastic bottle from his bag, and poured some sparkling cider into a smaller water bottle that he had in front of him.

“There, I’m all ready now,” he said.

 

Don was born in Fort McMurray, Alberta. He is one of ten children.

“My parents were both born on First Nation reserves. My grandfather was a well known artist. He also used to deliver mail. There’s a great photograph of him with his dog sled taking a trip to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. I remember seeing that when I was a kid,” said Don. When he was seven years old, Don and one of his sisters were removed from their home and put in a residential school.

“I don’t know why, or how they decided who to take. I had older and younger sisters and older brothers. But they just took two of us. My parents didn’t know anything about it either,” he said. 

 

We sit for a few moments, quietly.

“It was brutal. I was scared, and I didn’t know what was going on. I was seven years old,” he said.

“They used to beat us. The nuns. There were three dorms, all filled with bunk beds, maybe fifty kids per room. When you spend all your time with kids, you get to know what’s going on. There was one night I noticed the bed next to mine was empty. In the morning I asked one of the nuns what happened to that kid. She told me he had gone home. I thought that was kind of weird, but didn’t say anything more. About a month later, I saw another bed empty when I woke up. Again they told me he had gone home. The nun said his parents had come to get him. I said to her ‘What, in the middle of the night?’ I got a beating for asking too many questions,” he said.

“They would get you to kneel on a chair, sitting on your knees and they’d whip the bottoms of your feet with a rubber tube.” The children were also expected to be quiet.

“There was a cellar room below ground, that had a steep set of stairs. There weren’t any windows and if you made too much noise or were loud, they’d put you in the cellar and leave you there for hours. It was terrifying,” said Don.

 

When he was almost eleven years old, Don was put into foster care.

“I was so relieved to be out of that residential school. Nothing could be as bad as that. The foster home was in a rural area and there was already snow on the ground. I think it was about October, maybe November. Back home my uncle used to show me how to set animal traps, and I got it into my head that I could run away and find my way back home. I figured I could trap my food if I needed to. So I ran away. And I got caught,” said Don.

“Man, I took a severe beating for that. She used a black garden hose to beat me with. I got beat bad,” he says, his voice trailing off. For the next five years, Don would be moved around from one foster home to another.

“I was in near thirty different foster homes. I can’t read or write because of moving around so much. I ran away a few times again. So they moved me to Edmonton. I guess they figured if I thought I couldn’t find my way home, I wouldn’t run away,” he said. Don then reached up and put his fingers in his mouth and removed his partial upper denture. 

 

“I was in the system until I was 18. Then they turn you out. When I was sixteen, I was taken to this new foster home. The man’s name was Myron and his wife was Mona. They had five chidden of their own. They showed me to my room, and I stayed there. Later, Myron came upstairs to tell me that dinner was ready. I didn’t go. He came again later and said I would have to come downstairs eventually. ‘You need to eat’ he said. I didn’t go down that night. The next morning I went downstairs and the family were all having breakfast. Of course I was hungry so I sat at the table. They all seemed nice, and got along well. Myron told me that he knew I was frightened but that if I treated his kids and them nicely, they’d make sure I was looked after,” Don said.

“It was the first time in all those years anyone had said anything like that to me. I could tell over the next few days that they were good people. I could see how happy their kids were, and that they were a good family.”

 

Don told me a story about a friend of Myron’s.

“They had some property together, and grew grain. They’d known each other for years, and were good friends. One day I’m in the car with Myron and we go to the grain barn. His friend comes out to the car and tells Myron that there’s something wrong with a piece of equipment, that it somehow broke. Then his friend accuses me of breaking it, and comes around to my side of the car and starts yelling at me, saying I had broken it. Myron got out of the car and goes right over to his friend and tells him ‘If you ever talk to my son like that again, I’ll fucking beat you!’ No one had ever defended me before. I knew I was a part of the family.” 

 

When Don turned eighteen, Myron and Mona gave him an old car that they had bought. Myron had been teaching Don to drive.

“Mona told me ‘We want you to have this.’ It was a cheque for $3000 and she also had information about my mother. I had thought my parents were dead. I hadn’t heard anything about them for years. They wanted me to go find my family. They were so good to me. Much better than those who claimed to be doing good in the name of religion,” said Don. He found his mother, his father and his extended family. Exactly where Mona had tracked them down.

“My parents are both dead now, but I had a chance to spend time with them and get to know them again,” said Don. He has remained in contact with Myron, Mona and their children all these years.

 

Back in Fort McMurray, Don started working for the forestry division.

“Every spring they would have a month long training camp for fire-fighting. Then for the season, I worked on the pre-attack crew. Going in and accessing what was needed and how much the fire would take to get under control. I did that for eleven years,” he said. Don got married, and they had seven daughters. He also carves leather.

“You give me a piece of leather and I can make you the nicest vest you’ve ever seen. I can carve it, sew it. There’s nothing I can’t do with a good piece of leather,” says Don. I asked if he carves wood.

“No. Shit man, I’m from Alberta, we don’t carve wood there. We’ve got so many cow hides available, trees and wood carving is a west coast thing.” He looked at me, shook his head and laughed. I couldn’t help but smile.

 

About 15 years ago, Don and his wife moved to Vancouver.

“It was mostly because of the weather. It’s warmer here and not as rough in the winter. It’s also better for my health. I have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), it’s a lung disease. I’ve already had one of my lungs removed. There’s too much pollution in Alberta as well, so it’s just better for me here.” Don said. Sadly, his wife passed away seven months ago.

“It’s tough. I’m here by myself now. My kids are all in Alberta and Saskatchewan, they’ve got their own lives. There’s nothing there for me,” he said. 

 

I tell Don that I think considering everything he’s been through, he seems to be holding it together really well.

“No. I’m not. I drink every day. From the time I get up, until I go to bed. It’s the only thing that helps me get through the days.” He then tells me that on the 25th of this month, he’s going into a detox and recovery program.

“I’m looking forward to it. I’m just biding my time. The next intake isn’t until the 25th. Then I go to detox for five days and then into a recovery program for a few months. I try to look after myself, clean clothes, shower every day, I eat a decent diet. I’m doing what I can,” he says. I ask if he’s ok if I share this part of his story.

“You fill your boots pal. I’m happy to have you tell my story. If you want to write a book, you come see me. I could tell you so much more. Enough to fill a book for sure.” Then he looks at me and says

“You’re not a cop are you?”

 

We move from where we’re sitting so I can take Don’s picture. I tell him I hope that I’ll see him around so we can chat again, and see how he’s getting along. As I hold up my phone to take his picture, he says

“Wait! My teeth.” He reaches into his pocket, puts his teeth in and smiles.

“Ok. We’re good.” #notastranger

Day 164 - Hanna

Day 164 - Hanna (4th person I approached)

June 13, 2014 - Hanna was sitting by herself, rolling a cigarette behind the Broadway City Hall Canada Line Station. When I asked her if she would chat with me, she said she would, depending on how long it would take. I laughed and said that it all depended on how interesting she was. She smiled and agreed to chat.

 

Hanna is from Bielsko-Biala, a city in southern Poland near the Czech border.

“I grew up there, all my childhood. I have a brother, five years older than I am. Like all children, we fought. He used to hit me all the time. But then, when he was twenty and I was 15, he had been studying at university for a couple of years. His attitude toward women changed, it was like he suddenly matured, and we’ve been good friends ever since,” she said. Hanna told me that she liked school.

“Except in elementary school. Everyone learns a second language. I’m not sure how they decide who learns what. Perhaps my parents decided, I don’t know. But some classes learned English, some learned French. I got German and wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t really like that. Otherwise school was good. I had lots of friends. I’m still friends with people I’ve know from both elementary and high school,” said Hanna. A handsome young man on a bicycle rode over and stopped right behind where Hanna and were sitting. He didn’t say anything. Hanna looked at him and then at me and said

“This is my boyfriend.” I asked if she needed to end our conversation and without looking at him she said,

“No, that’s fine, he will wait.” She looked at him and smiled, as he said

“That’s fine, take your time.” And with that Konrad moved about five feet away from us and started tinkering with his bicycle.

 

In Poland, education is free.

“It is quite common for students to go directly to university after high school. Going to university was my first time moving away from home. I couldn’t wait to move. A lot of people in Poland stay living with their parents until they finish university. I was so happy to go to another city. It was wonderful. When I was 19 I applied to go on a school trip to New York for the summer. My parents were shocked. They couldn’t believe I would be okay traveling away from home by myself. I went with some people from school, and my best friend. She didn’t like it and left after one month. I stayed for four months,” said Hanna, putting both arms up in the air in a sign of victory!

“I took English language studies in my first year of university. I’ve always liked English. When I was a child, from the age of about seven years old, I remember my brother would watch cartoon shows that were in English. And then we watched MTV. I didn’t know what they were saying at first, but after watching it for a couple of years, I started to understand. That’s how I began to learn English; MTV and American cartoons,” Hanna said laughing.

“After being in university for one year, I added Fine Arts to my studies. I spent six years there in university,” Hanna said. 

 

When she graduated, Hanna was offered a job almost immediately.

“I was supposed to be a graphic designer. Well, ok I was a graphic designer, and I got a job at a publishing house. I was fortunate. My friends spent a lot of time looking for work, and I started right away. But after two years I couldn’t stand working in an office anymore, so I quit,” Hanna said.

“I needed to be doing something with my hands, not sitting at a desk all day. I started to make my own bags and purses (she showed me her own beautiful felt and suede purse that she was using, and had made herself). I have an online store and did that for about five years. I still have the online store, but I don’t have a sewing machine or anything just now,” she said.

 

Hanna and her boyfriend have been together for eight years.

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe eight or nine years. I’m not sure,” she told me. “We met in university.” They have been traveling together for years. I asked how many countries they have been to together and Hanna wasn’t sure.

“More than ten at least. Easily. In Europe there are countries that are very small. We’ve traveled a lot together. It is good because we get along so well, and we have very similar ideas about things,” said Hanna.

“We‘ve done most of Europe. We lived in Ireland for a while. And we just spent two years living in London, England. It’s easy when you’re from a European country because of the EEC (European Economic Community). Canada is the first place we’ve needed a working visa for. We are here for maybe a year or so, and then we want to go to America, maybe. I’d love to go back to New York. We might ride our bikes there. Konrad had a visa but it expired, so even though we are this close, we can’t go just now,” said Hanna. Konrad was sitting quietly, rolling a cigarette. I told him we wouldn’t be that much longer. He smiled and told us to take our time. 

 

Tomorrow, they are moving to Gabriola Island, just off the west coast of Canada, in the Gulf Islands.

“I got a job there. We’ve had some problems (Hanna and Konrad) because we’ve had some offers for both of us to work here in Vancouver. We have Czech friends here and really like the city. With the mountains and the ocean, it’s beautiful.  But after two years living in the concrete of London, I’d like to spend the summer living in nature. We went to Gabriola last week. It’s lovely. I got a job working for a woman who makes things, including purses, so she has lots of sewing machines. I took that as a sign. So Konrad is making this move for me. We’re only going to stay there for the summer, and then come back to Vancouver to live and work for a while. He (Konrad) has been working doing many different things. He does repairs, fixing things, making things, general maintenance. There’s a number of cottages on the property where we will be staying on Gabriola. So we will live and work on the property for the summer,” said Hanna.

“We are moving everything we have over there tomorrow, on our bicycles. Konrad just got that bike today, so I think he’s fixing it for the move,” looking over at him examining the bicycle’s kick stand.

 

I was curious to know why Hanna was sitting where she was, near the transit station, with them both having bicycles.

“These statues here,” she said, pointing to the tall metal figures behind the Canada Line Station.

“We rode by here last week and I thought the work looked familiar. So I wanted to come by and check them out. I told Konrad that they looked like the work of Abakanowicz, she is a Polish artist. And I was right as well, they are!”  #notastranger

"Walking Figures” - by Magdalena Abakanowicz - http://bit.ly/1hSz6pH

Day 163 - Natalie

Day 163 - Natalie (3rd person I approached)
June 12, 2014 - Natalie was born and raised in Richmond, British Columbia (BC). She is an only child.

“I always wanted to have siblings. I was envious of my friends that did. My parents separated when I was very young, and I didn’t have anyone that I could talk with about that. There wasn’t a brother or sister to go through what I went through along with me. I think it would have been easier. When you see your parents having a difficult time, you don’t want to talk about it with just anyone. So I didn’t talk about it with anyone,” she said. Natalie had grown up with her mother and tells me that they get along reasonably well.

“There’s definitely something to be said for changes that can take place when a mother goes through menopause," she said chuckling.

"Plus, she's been with the man she’s with now for about 20 years; that’s the main focus of her life. We get along, but were closer when I was growing up.”

 

Natalie enjoyed school and was a good student.

“I liked learning and I enjoyed seeing my friends. I think Grade 12 was definitely my favourite year of school over all. I went to Kwantlen College in Richmond right after I graduated from high school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was 17. Who knows what they want to do at that age? So I went to college with the intention of going to university after that,” said Natalie. A friend of her's invited Natalie to go to her brother’s graduation from flight school.

“I had been in Air Cadets when I was a kid. I was always interested in being a pilot. With the air cadets we would go flying every month. You could go through training with them to get your pilot's license, but it meant going to air cadet camp for the summer and I wasn't into that. Air cadet camp was not all about fun and adventure, it was learning and study and just did not appeal to me,” she said. Natalie did some research after attending the flight school graduation. Then she enrolled in flight school herself.

“I was going to college, working and going to flight school all at the same time. I gave it my best shot to do it all, but it was too much and so I left college. Besides, I couldn’t afford to pay for college and flight school. It was a private flight school with no government funding available, and very expensive. I had to pay for it myself. I did a week-long flight instrumentation reading section of the course. That was almost $5000 for the week, just for that one component,” said Natalie.

 

While in flight school, Natalie was able to take out small planes, building up her minimum flight hours required to get her pilot's license.

“It’s quite ironic. If you get your learner's permit for driving a car, you have to have a qualified driver in the car with you until you get your license. When learning to fly at that time. once you had your minimum 60 hours of flight time, you could take a plane out by yourself. You needed something like 350 kilometres (approx. 220 miles) ‘cross country’ distance as well. I took a plane and a group of my friends and flew us to California for a week! I was 19 years old. It’s kind of crazy to think about that,” she said, laughing. During her time in flight school, Natalie’s father became ill and she put everything on hold to spend time with him.

“After my father passed, I went back to school and completed the program. It was a bit longer because of the time I took off, so in about 3.5 years I got my pilot’s license,” said Natalie. 

 

Her first job was for a small cargo flight company.

"I would fly parcels and freight usually around British Columbia. Though, I seem to remember flying medical supplies down to Seattle. They were supplies for cancer research,” she said. We talked about all new pilots getting the worst trips and the cargo that was potentially hazardous.

“It may have been radioactive,” she said, joking. 

 

Natalie worked for a couple of small carriers that had contracts with nationwide parcel delivery companies.

“The first company went out of business. It’s a competitive market. And then the second company I worked for I left and they went under shortly after as well, “ she said. Natalie is now working for a company that she has been with for some time.

"I’m now flying Boeing 727 aircraft, delivering parcels and cargo for Canada Post and another courier company. While I still only fly within Canada I'm sometimes gone for a couple of weeks at time," she told me. In order to understand the size of the planes she flies,  I asked Natalie how many passengers a 727 would carry as a passenger plane?

“About 200 passenger. But’s it all cargo for me, so I don’t have to think about that kind of responsibility. When flying, I don’t really think about the length of the plane behind me. Whether it's a small plane or a 727, the flying is relatively similar. My job is to focus on what’s ahead of me,” she said.

 

Natalie has been in a relationship for the past seven months.

“He’s a pilot as well and flies internationally, so he understand that our schedules are varied and change often. It’s actually worked out really well in terms of the time we do spend together. We both just got home from flying and we have the next two weeks off together. It’s not very often that couples get that kind of time off together without it being a planned vacation,” said Natalie. We chatted for a while about the time that they did spend together at home. The potential for more ‘quality time’ between them. With their schedules, they don't see each other daily and fall into routines, as can happen in many relationships.

“When people find out that I’m a pilot, they often say ‘oh wow, that's so cool, lucky you!’  For me, I usually respond with ‘Oh you get to sleep in your own bed every night and work nine to five, five days a week! That's so awesome!’ I’m sometimes jealous of people who do have that routine. But of course, I love what I do."

 

I thanked Natalie for her time, for chatting with me and sharing her story. She gave me a lovely big smile and shook my hand.

“Good luck with your project! It’s been really nice talking with you.” I said I admired how dedicated she was to pursuing her dreams, and it's amazing that she’s a pilot, flying those big planes.

“Thank you," she said.

"My life is pretty ordinary really, and it's all I know. It’s ordinary and not so special. Everyone I know is a pilot.” #notastranger 

Day 162 - David

Day 162 - David (1st person I approached)
June 11, 2014 - I saw David from about a block away. He was sitting on a bench on the seawall, looking out over False Creek. We sat and chatted as countless walkers, cyclists and joggers went by, enjoying the sunny afternoon.

 

David was born in the tiny, 700 year old village of Kneesworth, near Cambridge, England.

“I think there were about 500 people that lived in Kneesworth,” said David. He has one older brother.

“I did all of my primary and secondary schooling in Kneesworth. At that time, the education system was called '11 plus.' At 11 years old based on testing, you started preparing for an academic life t then go on to a professional life. Or if you didn’t do so well, you continued with the idea of working in a trade when you finished school at 16. I didn’t do so good. I liked school, and things like woodworking and metal shop. We also had an acting program which I enjoyed until I became too self-conscious to perform,” he said shyly. David had always had an interest in horticulture, in part because of the location where he grew up.

“In school we learned about things that were relevant to our community. There were a lot of farms and people working on the land and we studied horticulture in school. I thought I’d like to work in a forest somewhere,” he said. When he finished school, at 16 years old, he got an apprenticeship in a glasshouse farming company.

“It was a three year apprenticeship. I worked in the glasshouses growing vegetables and things. I went to school one day a week and worked the rest of the time. Then I did a one year practicum to complete the program.” 

 

After completing his apprenticeship, David “decided it was time to move on.” He considered Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

“I was thinking of Australia, but the Vietnam war was happening and there was talk of sending troops and I did not want to go to Vietnam. Canada wasn’t getting involved and so I came here.” David had done some travelling in Europe in his youth, usually with groups, but this was his first time moving away from England.

“I landed in Toronto and took a train across Canada. The sheer size of the country. For a young lad traveling alone, it was amazing. I ended up in Sidney, on Vancouver Island (British Columbia (BC)),” he said. David got a job working for the Forestry Department, in research.

“They were importing trees from all around the world and we would test and track how the different species fared in test grows. I was just finding my feet. I learned so much in that time,” said David. He met a woman and they got married and settled into life on the Island. The marriage didn’t last, and after a couple of years, David decided to sell up and return to England.

 

Back in England, David worked for a year and put together his next adventure.

“I bought a boat and got it ready, thinking I might sail to Australia. In the end though, I left England and headed back to Canada. I sailed to Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands. Then I crossed to the Panama Canal and up the west coast back to Sidney. I picked up crew among the way. It’s like people hitch-hiking. People will work on the boat as crew in exchange for passage. It took me about eleven months. I was in my late 20's and it was an incredible adventure,” said David.

“I was young enough then to be a bit more fearless. I wouldn’t do that same trip again, having done it and being older now, I know the risks. But at the time, I didn’t know what it would involve.” David landed another horticulture job with a family owned business. He became romantically involved with a woman he had met when he was in Sidney the first time.

“We kept in touch when I was back in England. Then when I came back to Canada, we started dating. I worked for a while and was living a good life. We planned to go on a sailing trip, and weren’t exactly how sure we’d be gone for. Then my girlfriend got pregnant” said David. They got an offer to live and work on Prevost Island, off the south coast of BC. The island is owned by an Irish family and is primarily a farm.

“It was definitely living off the land. There was no electricity and no running water. It was generators and collecting well water, looking after animals, farming and growing our own food,” he said. They stayed there for two years.

 

David and his wife applied to an organization called CUSO - Canadian University Service Overseas. They are a development organization that works to reduce poverty and inequality in developing countries.

“We got accepted and they offered us a position in Papua New Guinea. It was exciting and scary at the same time. So, with our daughter who was two and a half at the time, we headed to Papua New Guinea. There are over 800 distinct languages and tribes there, all separated by mountains, or valleys or bodies of water. The most common language spoken is Pidgin English. After a few weeks to acclimatize, we moved to our assignment,” said David.

“In 1967, a French Canadian Pastor had gone into the mountains near the Indonesian border. He discovered a tribe of people that had not had any contact with the outside world. This was about 20 years prior to us going there. Our assignment was to work with the tribes people, to help teach them about growing crops. They had obviously managed before we got there. But their diets had no protein, they were in poor health and they had a high infant mortality rate. We helped them to grow more productive crops that provided a more balanced diet. We provided education and health support as well as infrastructure,” he told me. I asked how the tribes people reacted to this outside help.

“As foreigners, and particularly white people coming in and helping them, they treated us well. There's an expression ‘Cargo Cult’ which means they trusted that we would provide them with tools, help them build shelter and provide supplies. In return they were open to our help.” 

 

After two years living in the mountains with tribes people, David was ready to leave. I wondered if the time spent living off the land on Prevost Island had helped them to prepare for life in the mountains of Papua New Guinea. David told me

“I don’t know if anything could have fully prepared us for that experience. I mean, yes, I guess it did somewhat, but I still question whether we did them any good in the long run. I mean their health was better, they had better resources. The infant mortality rate improved and the young ones got an education. The down side to that was there were more tribes people, with no more land. The young people who were getting an education had no way of utilizing that knowledge. It seemed to create a whole new set of problems.”  The son of the headmaster of the school and David’s daughter had formed a strong bond, with them being around the same age.

“The headmaster was from Papua New Guinea himself and I think he was thinking about arrangements for his son’s future. He was so grateful for everything we had done, he offered to give his son to us. Literally. Of course we couldn’t do that,” said David. The family settled back in Canada, this time choosing a small farm in the Cowichan Valley, on Vancouver Island.

“After we had been back for about eight months or so, the young boy did come to live with us for about a year. He was seven years old. I think the flight and travelling alone was overwhelming for him. He was quite freaked out, and it was a huge culture shock for him as well. We got him into school and he started making friends and seemed to adapt okay. We didn't want him to get too caught up in consumerism or western culture. After almost a year, he went back home to Papua New Guinea. It seems we didn’t keep him long enough to spoil him. He ended up becoming a school teacher,” said David with a sense of pride in his voice.

 

Once again, the family got into a routine of living on the west coast of Canada. David got a job working for CP Rail.

“They had gotten large tracks of land when they were building the railway and still owned much of it. I was working on the reforestation, managing and planting seedlings. I did that for seven years,” he said.

“Then one day the phone rang. It was a coordinator for CUSO, the organization that we had worked with in Papua New Guinea. They had a project that they thought we’d be good for and wanted to know if we would be interested,” said David. Their daughter was a teenager now and his wife wasn’t interested in going. But David was interested.

“We talked it over and it took some time to decide, but my wife told me that she wanted me to go, if that’s what I wanted. We had been together for close to twenty years and I guess timing is everything. We decided I would go, and we would just see what happened for each of us. And so, I went to Papua New Guinea again,” said David.

 

Going back a second time was completely different for David.

“I was working in an office based in Port Moresby, which is the largest city in Papua New Guinea. It is also very dangerous. At that time it was the second most dangerous city listed on the UN (United Nations) safety listings. There was a lot of violence and crime and poverty. And of course being a caucasian male, I was a moving target. The job was very stressful. I was coordinating volunteers and resources. Helping with planning and logistics of the various assignments we had going on there,” said David. During this two year assignment, David met a woman and they became romantically involved.

“I had been communicating with my wife and we had both come to agree that our marriage was at it’s end. We both wanted to be supportive of one another and we are still close and remain good friends. It was completely amicable. We corresponded via fax and we spoke on the phone. There wasn’t much emailing going on," he said.

"There's something that happens when you're living in those dangerous circumstances. When you're dealing with that kind of pressure daily. People become closer.” When their time was up, David and his girlfriend returned to Canada together.

“She’s Japanese Canadian and is from Regina (Saskatchewan). Her parents had been living in Vancouver during World War II. They had their farm property confiscated and were one of hundreds of Japanese families sent out of BC during the war,” he told me. 

 

David got a job with the horticulture company that he had worked with during his second time back in Sidney.

“My girlfriend had established her own business in Vancouver. I would work during the week in Sidney and then come back to Vancouver on my days off. After work I would go to the dock. I built a boat from an old hull and spent three years working on that. The plan was to sail the boat to Mexico, and leave it there. Then we’d winter in Mexico on the boat and come back to Vancouver for the summers,” he said. Owing to personal circumstances, plans changed and David sold the boat.

“My girlfriend's daughter was ill and we needed to be in Vancouver.”

 

I had talked with David for almost an hour, and was enthralled with his story. We spoke about David stopping every now and again to appreciate just how fortunate his life has been . All the adventures, the positive impact and experiences he has had.

“Every now and then, like anyone I get a bit down. I stop and think about just how lucky I’ve been to have lived the life that I have. It’s in those moments that I’m most grateful for my life,” he said. 

 

I asked David what he had been doing sitting on that bench alone when I first came over to chat.

“Oh. I was just coming back from looking at a boat I’m thinking about buying. I don't like to make decisions in a hurry. I was just sitting here thinking about that.” #notastranger