Day 90 - David

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Day 90 - David (1st person I approached)
March 31, 2014 - David was born in Notre-Dame-du-lac, Quebec, close to the border with the state of Maine. The family home was near the lake, and David told me a great story about an adventure with his older brother.

“I was about 12 years old, and there had been a number of boats that had sank on the lake. My brother was a number of years older than me, and he was a welder. He wanted to make a diving bell to rescue one of the boats.  We lived near an old railway line, so he reinforced the sides of an old water tank he found with rail tracks, and cut a hatch in it, and put a gasket around the edges to seal it. He put in a window and an air in and air out line. We used my dad’s old army radio and a car search light. Of course my father looked at my older brother and said ‘There’s no way your putting your brother in that thing and putting it in the water!’ My brother told my Dad no of course not. I went down I think about 12 times! We never found anything, they’d drag it behind our boat, but it kept spinning around. One time I did get a scare though, the gasket started to leak and the tank started to fill with water, but my brother had rigged a pulley line and the radio worked, so he got the tank up quickly and pulled me out.” 

 

When he was 15 years old, David left school and never went back.

“Let’s just say something happened, and it’s a long story,” said David.

He left Quebec and went to the province of Labrador (now called Newfoundland and Labrador), finding work as a labourer.

“I worked there for a few months. It was hard work. I hadn't even met an english speaking person before then. Working outdoors, and when it’s minus 35C (-31F), you crave sunshine and warmth. So I saved my money and went to Mexico. I was 16 then. I took the train as far as Houston, Texas and I remember waiting at the station for a bus to Mexico. Segregation was still very much in effect back then, and they had white waiting areas and an area ‘for black people’. I feel asleep only to be awakened by a security guard who said I couldn’t sleep at the station. When I told him I had hours to wait for my bus, he told me to go sleep ‘in the black section.’ People looked at my strangely, but I never had a problem there, as a matter of fact, I got a lot of help from some very nice people,” David recalled. 

 

David travelled around, enjoyed the sunshine and explored. After ten weeks in Mexico, he returned to Quebec, before deciding to move west to Vancouver.

"I wanted to live somewhere that had a warmer climate. I made my way to Toronto, and then headed south, where it was warmer, to hitchhike across the States then up into Vancouver,” David said.

I asked him how old he was at this point, telling him I thought it bold and adventurous.

“I was almost 17. It was a great adventure. I had my passport and a little bit of money, but not much. I was always dressed well though. That was the thing. And people were so friendly and helpful, despite all the racial tension. I remember being in Detroit and I asked a cab driver, a black man, where the nearest Salvation Army was, and he wanted to know why I needed the Salvation Army. I told him I was making my way to Canada, and I needed a place to sleep. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a bunch of change and said ‘Here take this, there's a hotel down the street. Get yourself a room and get a good night’s sleep.’ He had given me about $25, which of course in the early 60’s was a lot of money. The hotel was a bit sketchy, but I got a room for the night, and had a good breakfast the next morning, and then took a bus out of town. I started hitchhiking agin once I got off the bus, and I’ll never forget it. A car pulls over, and there was a black couple in the front of the car, with two kids in the back seat. The woman gets out of the car and moves into the back seat with the kids, and tells me to get in the front passenger seat. They played jazz music and we drove together for about 400 miles. It was one of the nicest trips I’ve ever had. They were so kind and relaxed.”

David stopped for a moment, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, I might have seen his eyes well up a bit. 

 

David continued on his journey, and in Colorado, a woman stopped to give him a ride. He goes on to tell me,

“She was moving some horses for someone and as we drove along it got dark. The place where the horses were going to was about another 150 miles or so away, but it was up and over a ridge, some 8000 feet up and then down the other side. She suggested that instead of driving through the dark, that I could spend the night at her home and then she’d take me to the next destination in the morning. So I agreed. In the middle of the night, I heard a loud knocking at the door. It was someone who had driven by and seen the horses out on the road. They had gotten out, so we went out to round them up again. It was kind of fun and exciting, chasing horses at night. They're funny creatures, horses are,” David says.

“They remember where it is they came from so once we started walking them back to the pen, they went ahead, and in through the hole in the fence where they got out. In the morning I offered to fix the fence, and when I went to look at what would need to be done, it was a bigger job than I had thought. She went out and got everything I needed, including work clothes for me and everything!”

David stayed there for a while and during that stay, he met the woman's daughter, Lou. She had been away at boarding school.

“That as they say, was the beginning of the end,” he told me, with a great big smile and laughter.

David went to Oakland, California and took a diving course, paid for by the woman who gave him the ride that night.

“She was so kind and generous. We became very good friends. She is a remarkable woman," he said, with a sense of pride in his voice.

He ended up back in Quebec, and became a salvage diver, working for a company that recovered salvage from the St Lawrence Waterway. He also continued travelling, spending a year in Australia, and a number of months “Bumming around Europe,” but all the time keeping in touch with Lou, the daughter of the woman from Colorado. 

 

A couple of years after meeting Lou’s mother, much to his surprise, the entire family relocated to Quebec, and Lou and David started dating. They have been married now for 47 years, and have three children and nine grand children. David told me

“After we got married, when I was 23 and Lou was 19, we finally made it to Vancouver. I contacted a buddy I had met in Labrador who was in Vancouver now, and he told me it would be easy to get a nice place to rent in the White Rock area. We lived there for 40 years. I became a candlestick maker! You know, it was the 70’s and the sand from the beach made perfect moulds. Then I moved on to other things. One of our daughters lives in Fort Langley, and we sold our house about 7 years ago, and got a place there as well.

 

As we were talking, a very attractive woman made her way over to where David and I were seated. It was Lou, his wife. David introduced us and we chatted a for a little bit. I asked Lou if she thought she had influenced her mother to move to Quebec, all those years ago.

“No, I don’t think so. My mother liked anything french, and the french people. But I was certainly happy. This man was so incredibly handsome back then,” she says as they look at each other. I remark that they are an attractive couple still and that it is clear they care about each other by the way they look at one another.

“Yes,” says Lou,

“but back then he weighed 135lbs, with black hair and those blue eyes. I was only 15, but it was love!” #notastranger

Day 89 - Keerti

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Day 89 - Keerti (10th person I approached)
March 30, 2014 - Keerti is a true Vancouverite! Born in Vancouver, Keerti grew up in the Little Mountain/Main Street area. She attended one elementary school, and says with a smile

“I still know people I went to elementary school with!”

In Grade 7, Keerti applied to go into an accelerated learning program called ‘Ideal Mini School’ (*Fact Check - link below) where the focus is on Fine Arts while encouraging a more independent approach to learning. Keerti told me,

“I had hoped it would be more academic. There was an interview process and the school only has 100 students, ranging from Grade 8 to Grade 12. It took me a while to get to used it. For the first eight months, I didn’t really like it. I was used to a more structured environment. But I ended up loving it. We learned English, Sciences, Math as well as Fine Arts, and textiles. There was actually a class just on textiles! It had it’s drawbacks too. The timing and classes didn’t integrate with other classes at Churchill, the administering school, so I couldn’t pick up additional classes. But it was a really great experience and opportunity.”

 

For Grades 11 and 12, Keerti switched things up again, getting into the International Baccalaureate program, which is for students ‘aged 3 to 19 help develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world,’ and to help prepare them for University. Upon graduating from high-school, Keerti then went to the University of British Columbia (UBC) getting her undergraduate degree in Sciences. Currently Keerti is taking some classes,

“Just because I enjoy school. I’m taking a class in Educational Psychology, and for that I’m preparing an interactive book aimed at 8 year old children, working with the Food Safe program. I’m also taking a class in Earth and Ocean sciences which looks at natural disasters. And I’m doing a course in South Asian Literature. That’s studying literature that was written in South Asia, and has been translated into English,” Keerti tells me.

I can tell that she is a very focussed and determined young woman, who truly enjoys learning and discovering. We talk a bit about what Keerti wants to do next, and her face lights up when she tells me,

“I want to go to into medicine. Possibly research, I’m not too sure. I think it’s a bit early to decide what direction I’ll go in. But I’m looking into it and doing some research.” 

 

In her spare time (what??) Keerti has volunteered at BC Children’s Hospital, and we talk about her time working with children with autism and learning disabilities. She spent a day following her family Doctor around for a Planning course she was taking.

“I literally approached my family Doctor and asked if I could shadow her. She is an incredible woman who used to be on the Olympic Ski team and then she became a Doctor. I wish I had taken a planning course much earlier. It really helped me to further my understanding of building out a map to success. So planning what courses I needed to take to get me to where I want to be in the next five, ten years and beyond. It has really helped” she says.

Keerti also volunteers at UBC’s Sexual Assault Support Centre. She speaks English, Punjabi and “taught myself Hindi from watching Bollywood movies.” 

 

Keerti’s parents immigrated from India some 23 years ago.

“They both have academic backgrounds. Both of my parents have their Masters degrees and were teachers in sciences, in India. They married later in life, in their 30’s and then came to Canada. They then had us three kids, and I guess the focus changed. They both work for Canada Post,” she says.

Keerti has a younger brother and a younger sister. I ask if they are as smart as she is, and without hesitation, she replies

“They are both far smarter than I am. My brother is in his third year of University in Sciences, and was selected as a child by the school board as a ‘gifted child.' He knows so much and has worked very hard to get where he is. He averages 94% in all of his classes. I’ve never gotten marks like that. And just yesterday, my sister got awarded a scholarship. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s wonderful that she got the recognition for her hard wrk. They're both incredibly talented!”

 

I ask if they are a close family and Keerti smiles with pride and tells me,

“Yes, we are. Of course you know as kids we fought, yelled, argued and bit, but we get along now. Just  yesterday my father was going through some old video tapes he had. I heard children’s voices and when I went into the room to see what my Dad was doing, he was watching old home movies from when we were kids. My mother came into the room and I called my sister. There was one video from my brothers birthday that I actually remember. My father had gotten face paint, and my brother was done up like Superman. My brother was still sleeping, so I woke him up, and all five of us sat there and watched these family movies. It was a lot of fun.” #notastranger

*Fact Check - https://www.vsb.bc.ca/programs/ideal-mini-school

Day 88 - Kiki

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Day 88 - Kiki (1st person I approached)
March 29, 2014 - Kiki comes from Calgary, Alberta. Born and raised there, Kiki went to one elementary, one junior and one senior high school.

“My parents where rather bohemian and had a different view on things. They met and married later in life, and had me late as well. My mother was 42 when she had me and back then, that was definitely considered later. They liked to travel, and they thought nothing of going traveling and bundling me up, and taking me along,” Kiki tells me.

When it came to schooling, her parent's approach was a little less unorthodox.

“I had a really bad experience in Grade 4, and that changed school for me for the rest of my grades. I had a teacher that was a bag. She was mean and would single me out. She had her favourites, and her non-favourites and for some reason, I was an non-favourite. I remember her saying things like ‘How did you ever manage to make it to Grade four?’ and of course, at that age it was devastating to experience that in front of the entire class. My parents didn’t take any action, because they saw a person of authority as being right.”

Kiki said she was an A student until that point, and then after these experiences, school was not so successful. “I was not what you’d call academically inclined. I didn’t enjoy school after that year, and wasn’t very interested in it. My morale and self esteem had suffered,” she said. 

 

At 16, Kiki got pregnant.

“As soon as I told the father, he left town. My parents where really good. Actually they were amazing. I lived with them right through my pregnancy. When I had the baby, I gave him up for adoption. It was a very tough decision. But I didn’t have the resources to look after him,” she said.

“I didn’t have the money, I was so young and I really felt it was the best thing to do for him. To have him be raised by a family that could hopefully offer him more than I could.”

After that Kiki moved out to be on her own.

“I needed to move out for myself. While my parents had been incredible, it was also a very difficult and tense time. I got a part-time job cleaning offices and continued with high school and supporting myself,” she said.

 

Kiki had an interest in art, and in Grade 11, she recalls,

“My art teacher never seemed to like anything I did. He found fault with it and I got lower marks than I felt I should have. Once again, I felt that I wasn’t good enough, and I stopped drawing.”

Upon completing school a guidance councillor told her that her ideas of going to University would likely not be good decisions. She was told that it would be expensive, and considering that she was already supporting herself, she’d incur a large debt load, and that the best thing she could do was to learn a trade.

“My parents had owned a little jewellery store when I was in my early teens and I’d work there part-time to help out. My father often tinkered with gold smithing and though he wasn’t very good, I got to know a bit about it. They couldn’t afford to pay me when I needed to earn a living, so that’s why I got a job and didn’t stay working with them. I spent  some time thinking about what trade I’d like to learn and decided to be a goldsmith,” said Kiki. 

 

At that time, there were no schools in Canada that trained people to be goldsmiths. Through her parents shop, Kiki knew a connection or two, and someone introduced her to one person, who knew someone else, and she met a goldsmith that agreed to take her on as an apprentice. Kiki tells me

“He trained in Germany, where it was a ten year training apprenticeship. When he first arrived in Canada, it was to work for Birks Jewellers in Montreal. At that time, Birks had some 300 goldsmiths and watchmakers working for the company. Eventually they wound down operations and outsourced everything, so he started his own shop. I trained with him for four years. I told him I wasn’t artistic and that I was only interested in technique.”

 

For the next 30 years, Kiki was a goldsmith. She worked for various companies and shops, and eventually she had to start drawing, telling me

“People would want a piece of jewellery and they would only be able to describe so much of what they wanted, and I would have to put down on paper what I felt they were describing. I got pretty good at it. And then I worked for a company that not only wanted drawings, but they wanted water-colour paintings produced of the pieces we created. I was fortunate that there was one of other employee who could paint, and so I learned through him and with his feedback.” 

 

Kiki’s journey took her from Calgary to Penticton and then eventually to Vancouver.

“I was married and that was ending and I realized that one town wasn’t big enough for both of us, so I moved to Vancouver, some 20 years ago,” she says with the slightest hint of a smile on her face.  

She later met another man and got married again. Some time back, the marriage wasn’t working, but rather than separate, they worked through their issues and still live in the same house.

“We’re good friends, just not husband and wife anymore. It works for us, and neither of us wanted to sell our little house. So we’ve made it work. It’s not for everyone, but it works for us.” 

 

A while back, Kiki felt it was time to step back from the goldsmith work.

“After 30 years, it was time to take a break. Doing anything for that long, you can get burned out. So I decided to stay home for a while,” she told me.

It seems to have worked because Kiki is about to start her own business and will soon be creating a jewellery line of her own.

 

We talked about what it’s like to be a creative person, and feeling comfortable to allow ones self to be seen as creative, or to be referred to as an ‘artist’,  and that with age, it gets easier to accept who we are as people.

“It’s come to the point where I feel good about who I am as a person, that I’m ok being me,” she said. 

 

Kiki mentioned that she has recently taken up pottery.

“Most of the instructors went to Emily Carr (College of Art and Design) and I had always wanted to go there, but of course, never felt I was good enough to be an art school student. And you know what? I’m actually realizing that they’re not any better than I am, and that I’m actually pretty good at this. I didn’t need to go to Emily Carr. They respect me, and they do things that I don’t and I do things that they don’t. And that’s perfectly okay with me.” #notastranger

Day 87 - Jeremy

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Day 87 - Jeremy (1st person I approached)
March 28, 2014 - Jeremy comes from Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands). He was born at Queen Charlotte Hospital, and grew up in the hamlet of Sandspit, which is located on the north east tip of Moresby Island, with a population of less than 400 people. 

 

There is one small school that serves all grades, with elementary going from Kindergarten to Grade 10. Jeremy told me,

“My parents divorced when I was about 7 years old, and my mother moved to Victoria. I went to live with her for about six months when I was 8 or 9, and I didn’t like it. I love Sandspit and I really just wanted to go back. So I went back to live with my Dad in Sandspit.”

Jeremy’s father has been a life-long forestry worker, while both of his paternal grandparents were teachers.

“My Dad dropped out of school in Grade eight,” Jeremy says.

“He started working in forestry at a young age. Fishing has always been a big part of our life, and I spent a lot of time out on a small boat, fishing with my Dad. I caught my first Tyee, that’s a salmon weighing more than 30lbs, when I was 11 years old. It weighed 35lbs. My Dad says he helped me a bit with reeling it in, but that I managed it myself.”

The biggest fish Jeremy has caught (so far) was a salmon weighing 45lbs, which took almost an hour to reel in.

 

When he was 10 years old, Jeremy did go back to Victoria, to live with his mother and went to school there. A year later, he went back to Sandspit again.

“I started to get into some trouble at school in Victoria. I’ve always liked being around older kids and in Sandspit, theres’s not much to do. So I was spending time with friends who were closer to 18. I started drinking at 11, and smoking a shit load of weed. I got suspended from school a number of times, and finally when I was about 16, I stopped drinking all together. I knew it wasn’t going to get me anywhere, and in a small town, everyone knows everyone else's business. My brother quit drinking around the same time as I did. I probably could drink now in moderation if I wanted, but I don’t want to. I also quit smoking pot as well. I started to work hard, and was able to graduate from Grade 10 an full year ahead of schedule,” Jeremy says modestly, without a trace of snugness.

He was also working hard through the summers as well, telling me about working on boats that would go out fishing for 7 days at a time, and he’d pull 16 hours of working, then sleep for an hour or so and get back into another 16 hours of working - starting when he was only 14 years old.

After graduating from Grade 10, Jeremy completed his schooling through online courses and distance learning.

“I persuaded the school to let me work and do my classes online. I wanted to work for the season at a fishing lodge, and if I didn’t complete school on time, I would miss out on the entire season. I’m not sure how I did it, but I got it done."

Jeremy starting working as a dock hand for a fishing lodge that guests flew into via helicopter, stayed for five days and fished, and then flew home.

“It was a floating lodge. Everyone who was working there, lived at the Lodge. It was an old granary barge that had been converted and they built the lodge on top of it. I started as a dock hand and after a long day, I'd go out fishing everyday for four or five hours. I wanted to show my boss I was serious about fishing and that I could work hard. That’s how I got to be a fishing guide. Hard work,” Jeremy tells me, again with complete modesty.

 

Jeremy has completed one year of a three year course in Marine Sciences at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), at the Marine Campus in North Vancouver. He will be spending this summer travelling to the Great Lakes, which straddle the Canada/USA border in Ontario. Jeremy tells me,

“I’ll be working on a large shipping & cargo vessel. The Marine Sciences program I’m in is a co-op program, so this is part of the curriculum. Then I have three more years of school. Next year I’ll have ten months co-op time to work. Some of my friends have gone to work on cable-laying vessels in Singapore, so I’m thinking of looking into that for the next co-op. But I’d also like to spend some time in Sandspit, and go to Kitimat with my girlfriend, that’s where she's from.”

They met last year while both working at the fishing lodge.

“We just got back from our first trip together, which was incredible. We went to Nicaragua for a month. I had been trying to talk her into going to El Salvador, but there’s so much unrest there, and her best friend who now lives in Kitimat is from Nicaragua, so we decided to go there. We spent time traveling around, and diving and going to the beach and exploring. The last week we took a side trip to Honduras.”

I commented that when a couple can travel well together it’s a good sign. Jeremy laughed and said

“Fuck yeah! The first night we made it to Texas, and missed our flight to Nicaragua. We were busy eating alligator and got caught up in the excitement. We ended up flying into El Salvador instead and having to spend the first night there, then taking a bus ride for 13 hours to get to Managua, in Nicaragua. All that in the first 24 hours. We travelled really well together!”

 

Jeremy has an older brother and a younger sister. They are all very close.

“My brother is an amazing guitar player, and he is at Vancouver Community College studying classical guitar. He’s been teaching me how to play. I have a friend in Sandspit that builds guitars, and I had started to build one, so figured I’d learn how to play it. My brother also plays some metal guitar as well, but I’m interested more in the finger-styling, flamenco type beat, six string classical guitar playing.”

When I ask about Jeremy’s sister, the love, admiration and respect he feels for her is palpable. His face lights up when he speaks about her,

“She is so incredibly intelligent and well-adjusted. She lived vicariously through my brother and I with the drugs and alcohol, and so she has seen the madness of it all. My sister is likely going to get a full four year scholarship to the University of Hawaii to study Marine Biology. We’ve pretty much always gotten along. You know, sure we’ve had fights and what not, like all brothers and sisters do. Man, when she went through puberty, even my mother was like ‘holy shit’, but she’s a smart girl and is heading in a great direction.”

In his spare time, and more so now that school is out for spring break, Jeremy likes to read.

"I’ve always enjoyed reading, but more so as I’ve gotten older. When I was younger I liked to read Brian Jacques whose stories were all about animals. And I like Robert Ludlum as well. I took  a novel study class in school, and missed out on reading some books because I wasn’t so interested in school then. So I’m reading some of the classics now. I read ‘Of Mice and Men’ and really liked that. Of course, ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ was amazing!”

Jeremy then tells me that today he just finished reading ‘Lord of the Flies’ to which I replied, “Poor piggy.”

“Yes, poor little piggy,” says Jeremy, and then he continues,

“You know reading that book kind of reminded me of life in Sandspit a bit. I remember there was one time I took some ExLax into school and slipped it into my teachers coffee. Just three pieces. A couple of hours later, we were outside for gym class and suddenly, the teacher just made a break for it and ran back to the school building. I got suspended for that for five days, for ‘bringing drugs to school.' One friend had told me one piece wouldn’t do anything, so I thought I’d try it. I spent what seemed to be the next two days in the can.” #notastranger

Day 86 - Jazlynne

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Day 86 - Jazlynne (1st person I approached)
March 27, 2014 - Jazlynne was born and raised in North Vancouver. She attended a private Catholic school from Kindergarten through to Grade eight.

“I couldn’t take the private school anymore,” says Jazlynne.

“It just wasn’t for me. I left the private school and started going to a public school in Grade nine. I did a lot better there.” Jazlynne also spent some time in alternative education.

“We spent most of our time doing field trips,” she said. There was also a focus on a more socialized curriculum, with less classroom structure, and more self-guided learning.

“In the end, it turned out to be far better than the earlier years of school,” Jazlynne said.

 

After finishing school, Jazlynne worked in a number of night clubs and bars. She now works in a health food store as a cashier.

“I like to sew. I called my mom one day and asked if I could have her old sewing machine,” said Jazlynne.

“I told my mom I’d teach myself and that she wouldn’t have to show me how to use the machine. I’ve done ok. There’s a lot of information online. I’ve made some clothes. And pillow cases and things for my apartment.

She has two sisters, both of them younger. Jazlynne told me,

“There’s a big age gap between us. I’m ten years older, so we don’t really spend that much time together hanging out or anything. But we do get along.” 

 

Jazlynne moved away from home at 19, leaving the North Shore behind.

“I’ve tried living in a few different neighbourhoods. Right now I’m living in Kitsilano. I really like it there, and it’s certainly different than North Vancouver. I’d like to stay there at least through the summer. One of these days I’d also like to live on Commercial Drive, but for now, I’m staying put in Kits,”  she said.

It’s also the first time since moving out on her own that Jazlynne has had roommates. She told me

“I thought it would be better to save some money and spilt the rent with a couple of friends. It’s working out great. They’re really good to live with, especially on nights when I get home from work and they’ve made dinner! That’s sweet.”

Jazlynne is also recognizing that having roommates and being fussy about how things are at home can be very different than living alone.

“I’m kind of OCD when it comes to my place, especially after living alone for years. I get a little freaked out by things from time to time. but for the most part, it’s working out ok,” she said.

 

Jazlynne has a number of piercings on her face and I asked  her a few questions about them.

“I got my first one when I was about 16. It was my labret (below the lower lip). I don’t wear that one so often anymore, I put it in last week, but I decided not to keep the stud in,” she said.

When I asked how long it took to get used to seeing the bridge piercing in between her eyes, I was surprised when she told

"I can't actually see it. If I close one eye and look up as far as I can, I can just about see the edge. But it didn't take any time to get used to, mainly because I can't see it."  

Jazlynne also has her lips, nose, septum, bridge, and anti-eyebrow pierced (*Fact Check - see link below). We talked a bit about how the anti-eye brow is done.

“They make a small cut in the skin and place a spacer ring under the surface and then a stud into that. The skin heals around the spacer ring and holds the stud in place,” Jazlynne told me, clearly having done her research and knowing exactly how the procedure takes place. I asked here where the most painful piercing that she has is.

“Well, it’s not on my face,” she replied with a smile. #notastranger

*Fact Check - http://www.piercingtime.com/face-piercings-chart/

Day 85 - Kirsten

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Day 85 - Kirsten (5th person I approached)
March 26, 2014 - Kirsten was born in Calgary, Alberta. She went to one elementary school, one junior and one senior high school. She is the middle child of three.

“My sister is just eleven months younger than I am, and so every year, for just over a month, we are the same age!” Kirsten said, adding that it was her birthday yesterday.

After completing high school, Kirsten came to Vancouver with her friend Rachel.

“We came here for a vacation and fell in love with the city. It was bigger than Calgary, and it must have been sunny during our trip! A few months later, we moved out here. Rachel suggested it and I thought it was a great idea. So we packed our bags and made the move,” she said. Kirsten got a job working in a florist. Her friend Rachel starting working at the newly opened Earl’s On Top on Robson Street, and soon Kirsten started working there as well.

About a year later, Kirsten decided to go to art school.

“My mother really influenced that decision, and I knew I wanted to do something in the arts,” Kirsten told me. “I chose a school in Barrie, Ontario because it had a co-op program, which meant working as well as going to school. I remember driving there with my father, and having some idea it would be just outside Toronto. When we drove past Toronto and kept going, I wasn’t really sure where we were heading to. Barrie is a very small town, but I ended up loving it there. I really like small towns!” In Kirsten’s first year of college, or foundation year as it’s called in the arts, she studied a broad range of subjects, including art history, industrial design and jewellery design.

“I had never thought about jewellery design before, but I feel in love. I spent the next five years studying that, and living in Barrie. I moved into a house that was all guys except for me. Oh, the parties we had! It was so much fun!” recalls Kirsten, telling me that this was bringing back “so many great memories!”

After completing her degree, she moved to Toronto.

“I was dating a guy, and he said he thought Toronto would be a good place to live, and so we moved there. I didn’t really like Toronto though. It was too big and too spread out for me. I stayed in Toronto in for about a year. I had a friend that had moved to Vancouver, and I wrote to her saying I was considering moving back to the west coast. She told me I could stay with her, and so I ended the relationship and moved back to Vancouver,” said Kirsten.

Kirsten didn’t pursue a job in jewellery design. The first summer back in Vancouver was spent having fun, and going to the beach. She then she landed a job as a nanny.

“It was a great job, and it paid really well. I was looking after three young Polish kids. They lived in Kitsilano, near the beach, and we spent a lot of time either at the beach, or in the park,” said Kirsten.

It was during this time that Kirsten met a man and started a relationship.

“I got pregnant and soon after realized that the relationship wasn’t working out. So I had my daughter and raised her myself. She’s eighteen now, and the love of my life,” said Kirsten, clearly gushing with pride and joy.

“We have a really wonderful relationship. Of course, there were a few tough times during the early teenage years, but we’re really good friends and she’s a wonderful young woman.” 

Kirsten now works as an office Manager within the health care community.

“I started out as a contract worker and then a vacancy opened up for Office Manager, and they told me I should apply, so I did. We run a 24 hour helpline that offers advice to anyone with emergency medical issues or in need of information. Anyone who may have overdosed on medication, or recreational drugs, or parents whose child may have ingested something and they need advice. We even get people calling when their pets have eaten something they shouldn’t have. If you have a question, give us a call, and we’ll find an answer for you!” #notastranger

Day 84 - Karen

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Day 84 - Karen (2nd person I approached)

March 25, 2014 - Karen was born and raised in the Killarney area of Vancouver. She attended one elementary school and one high school.

“Yeah, I still know people I went to school with. I’m actually good friends with a woman that I went to kindergarten with. We don’t see each other all that often, but there are about five of us who try to get together about four or five times a year,” Karen says. 

 

After high-school, Karen went to the University of British Columbia (UBC) for a year, studying child health care.

“I applied for and got accepted to a program that started in second year. You needed to have one year of University to qualify, and so I moved to Victoria and went to the University of Victoria (UVic), for three years, completing my child health care degree. It ran the whole spectrum of child health care subjects, from infant care right through to troubled adolescents.” said Karen. 

 

When she graduated, Karen moved back to Vancouver. Working three part-time jobs, Karen told me,

“It’s hard to get a full-time job right out of school, and so I took what I could and ended up working about 60 hours a week.”

Karen's jobs included working in a home supporting autistic children, and working with parents whose children were struggling and potentially making poor decisions. Her support helped to keep the youth integrated in the community.

“I got into the school system, and was working at a school, with a class for about eight months. One Friday I was told I had been replaced by someone returning from a leave, and that was that. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to the kids I had spent eight months with. After that I decided to go back to school and get my Teachers certification,” Karen said. 

 

After another year at UBC, Karen was qualified as a teacher.

“I spent some time as a teacher on call (TOC) and then managed to get hired by the school board,” she said.

Karen has been a primary teacher, working with children in Grades one through three, for almost 25 years now. Karen and her husband, who is also a teacher did spend a year in Greece, teaching English. They have two children, a son and a daughter.

 

I asked Karen what she found to be the most challenging aspect of her job as a teacher. After a few moments considering her answer, Karen told me,

”It’s not so much the job really, it’s more about the perception of it. I think because everyone has been to school, they think it’s easy. The role of the teacher isn’t held in the same regard as they once used to be.”

Karen told me that she knows of many teachers who have to take other jobs during the summer to make ends meet. There’s also the extra hours spent in preparing for the classroom. Karen went on to say,

“It’s as if people seem to think it’s such an easy job. There’s this thought that the job is from 9:00am-3:00pm. I challenge anyone to try and look after 25 little people with no pre-planning or prior organization time.” #notastranger

Day 83 - Janie

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Day 83 - Janie (1st person I approached)

March 24, 2014 - Janie was born and raised in the Rosemount area of Montreal, Quebec. She is an only child and was raised by her mother, a single parent. Janie attended one elementary school and one high school. I asked Janie if she had any thoughts about being an only child, in comparison to her friends who might have siblings. She told me,

“I think that maybe I had a bit of an advantage, but I never really thought much about it. It was just the way it was. I think though that when I have children, I will definitely have more than one.”

 

When Janie finished high school, she went to CEGEP, which is the French equivalent of college. It is designed to help prepare students for University.

 

“I went to study Humanities,” said Janie.

“I was interested in Psychology, and had an idea to become a Psychologist. I really had a difficult time during my CEGEP.”

Janie told me that she had done very well in high-school, and was a good student.

”In high-school I was very into sports, and active. I also was involved in synchronized swimming. But in college, I started experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and I really wasn’t in a very good place, mentally.”

Janie told me that she had some difficulties around this time with her relationship with her mother. She said,

“My mother wanted me to do things her way, and while I knew that she was probably right, I wanted to try things a different way. I wanted to broaden my experiences. I got messed up with the drugs and drinking, and after one year in college, I left.”

It would be four years before Janie would go back to school. As we talked, Janie’s eyes filled with tears. She talked with me about the struggles with her mother, and doing what her mother wanted, and her own struggle with getting her life organized. Janie worked while exploring other options. After four years, she went back to college, again to study humanities.

“I still wasn’t ready though, and I only made it one session (term),” Janie said.

 

In 2009 Janie decided to move to the West coast, to reinvent herself and start fresh and new. She moved to Vancouver Island and began coaching young girls in synchronized swimming, a passion that stayed with her from her high-school days.

“I also started to get into my own fitness and eating well, and taking better care of myself. I began helping some of the girls from swimming with their fitness and weight goals,” Janie said.

Her ex-boyfriend from Montreal moved to the Island and they tried to rekindle the relationship, but things didn’t work out. 

 

Janie moved to Vancouver and really focussed on her own health and well-being.

“I took a three month course to get certified as a personal trainer, and started working at a local gym. I’ve been doing this for four years now and things have really turned around for me,” Janie said, smiling, and with no more tears.

Janie is currently training for a body-building competition, and has taken things to the next level.

“I watch everything I eat. I’m on a healthy diet and weigh my food as well. I have ten weeks before the competition, so it’s all about that right now,” she said.

 

I asked Janie if she was still in contact with any of her friends from school.

“Well, I still know a few of them, but we don’t really keep in touch. I was just in Montreal three weeks ago, and I spent most of my time with my family. After being away for almost six years, it’s harder to have things in common. People are busy with their own lives,“ Janie told me. 

 

I asked how her relationship with her mother is these days. Her eyes welled up a bit again, and she shared

“It’s ok. My mother has stage four cancer and it’s not good. We try to spend the time we have together not fighting, so not getting stressed and enjoying the time we have. It’s easier if we do it in moderation.”

I thanked Janie for her time, and for sharing her very personal story so openly. We hugged, and said our goodbyes. The best hug I had all day. #notastranger

 

Day 82 - Kevin

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Day 82 - Kevin (4th person I approached)

March 23, 2014 - Kevin was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He grew up in Brampton, a small suburban city within the Greater Toronto area. He attended one elementary school and one high school.

"I still have friends that I've known all my life. One of my friends who lives in Toronto is expecting his first child. It's so amazing. We used to play t-ball together when we were five and now he's going to be a parent!" Kevin says.

 

After high-school Kevin took a two year college program to enhance his grades.

"I had a bit of a tough time in high school and my marks weren't where I needed them to be, so I went to college to upgrade. After college, I went to the University of Guelph, taking a four year justice studies program. It was a unique set up because the university and Humber College combined there methodology and so the program was very hands-on and not purely academic. Most people would take justice studies to either be a police officer or to go onto law school. We learned how to actually hand-cuff someone, as well as the implications behind restraint," Kevin told me.

 

Kevin's parents divorced when he was younger and his father lives in London, England. His Dad networked an opportunity for Kevin which took him out of University, and he moved to London, England.

"I got a job working for a marketing company, working on social media campaigns. It was completely different from what I was learning in university, but an opportunity that I couldn't pass up. The first week I was there, my step-mother organized a dinner party, and that's where I met my girlfriend," said Kevin.

I asked if it was a set-up, or just the universe unfolding in his favour. Kevin told me,

"I think it was a bit of both. The people who were at the dinner all moved seats and yet my girlfriend and I were sat directly across from one another from the start. I think it was a plan." Kevin stayed in England for 18 months.

"Before coming back to Canada, my girlfriend applied for a working visa to come back with me. Once she had that, we moved to Toronto so I could complete my university program." While Kevin was finishing his final term and exams at school, his girlfriend got a job working with a major clothing company, and she relocated to Vancouver.

"We were apart for about two months before I was able to join her here in Vancouver," he said.

 

Kevin now works freelance here in Vancouver, designing advertising and social media campaigns.

"I do some stuff with the company that I worked for in England, but most of my work is freelance, for my own company. I know it's not related to my degree, but having completed university, combined with traveling and living in England has really been a great life experience. Living in England really opened my eyes and shifted my perspective on life. I'm actually going to Toronto for a vacation to see family and friends later this spring, and I'm looking forward to seeing them, but I do love living here in Vancouver."

 

When Kevin and I were talking about his childhood, he mentioned his younger sister, and I asked him if he had any other siblings. Kevin told me,

"Yeah, I have an older brother. My Father was involved with the Big Brothers Association when I was growing up. He would volunteer his time, and became a Big Brother to a young man who was being raised my his mother, who was a single parent. When this boy was about 14 years old, his mother passed away. My father made arrangements with the boy's family and Big Brothers, and he came and lived with us for a few years. I don't see him as often now because he lives in the States (USA), in Texas. He's definitely a part of our family. He has two children of his own now, and I am their Uncle, and they are my nephews. He is my big brother." #notastranger

Day 81 - Liz

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Day 81 - Liz (3rd person I approached)

March 22, 2014 - When I first told Liz what I was doing and asked if she would talk to me, she smiled and said

“I’m sure I don’t have anything interesting to tell you. I’ve lived a very ordinary life.”

 

Liz was born and raised in Dauphin, Manitoba. She is the youngest of nine children.

“I grew on up living on a wheat farm. There was always chores to be done. We all had different responsibilities. The boys of course spent most of their time helping outdoors, working in the fields or with the cattle. I had chores doing housework, collecting the eggs from the chicken coup, and making butter. My parents were from Poland and had lived through the great depression. Everything we ate was grown on the farm. Vegetables, fruit, milk, butter, cheese and livestock. It was also my job to catch the chickens when the time came for them to become a meal. There was a lot to do, so I didn’t really spend much time thinking about the fact that the meal we were eating was running around outside the day before,” Liz told me. 

 

School was a two room building that housed classes for all ages, from Grades one through eight, until that burned down and then the new school was a single large classroom. Liz recalls,

“As the youngest of nine children there was always a lot going on at home. In those days, you completed school earlier than kids do today. After Grade eight, my mother kept my older sister and I home for two years and home-schooled us. She spent two years crying in preparation. Really, the only reason she home-schooled us was because after raising nine children the house became too quiet for her, and she referred to it as her empty nest. We became her job, if you will, by home-schooling the last two of us nine children.” At Grade ten, Liz was allowed to go into town, and tells me

“In those days, completing Grade ten, you graduated high school, and Grade eleven was the equivalent of first year University prep, so I graduated again after Grade eleven!” 

 

At 17, Liz left home to go live in “the BIG city” of Winnipeg. She lived with her elder sister, who was married with two children.

“Growing up in Dauphin, there wasn’t really much in the way of entertainment. If there wasn’t any chores left on the farm, we spent the remainder of our time helping out with my older brothers and sisters who all had farms surrounding ours, and looking after their children. Moving to Winnipeg, that was true freedom,” Liz says, with an long, slow, extension of the word F-R-E-E-D-O-M!

"I was excited by everything the big city had. I remember seeing Len Cariou* in the bank and being so excited! On Sundays after church, my sister and I would go for coffee with our friends and then we’d sneak away to the symphony. I remember vividly seeing ‘Peter and the Wolf.’ We never told anyone we did this. We figured people wouldn’t understand why we wanted to go to the symphony, and that it was above us. As a matter of fact, my sister tells me, and I have no memory of this at all, but she said that our mother used to turn on CBC radio on Sunday nights and make us all listen to the symphony, but I don’t remember that whatsoever.” (*Fact Check - Lou Cariou is a Canadian stage and film actor - see link below).

 

Liz’s first job was working at The Hudson’s Bay as a filing clerk, working her way up to assistant for the buyer for the store, and then going into sales. Liz worked there for about a year, and then got a job at Moore Business Forms, a large business stationary and order form company.

“That’s where I met my husband. We dated for four years before getting married. When Moore moved their headquarters to Vancouver we relocated out west. It was bitter sweet, being away from family. My husband and I decided that working for the same company probably wasn’t a good idea, so I left Moore and looked for another job. I discovered it was very difficult to find a job as a newly wed wife, because no one wanted hire me, assuming I’d get pregnant and leave. I got a job working for the Bank of Montreal and did just that. I got pregnant with the first of our two daughters. I stayed at home raising the children until our youngest daughter was in kindergarten. I went back to work, and started what would be 27 years working in the Surrey Library system.”

I could tell from Liz’s facial expression, the smile on her face and the look in her eyes that the library was a job she loved.

“I used to do a bit of everything. I was involved in the start of the Story Time for children program, and we’d put on puppet shows. It really was a great job. Children would come to the library to do their “homework” but they’d have so much fun playing and get so involved, there was always last minute questions. Trying to find a description of a word that they didn’t know how to spell and couldn’t quite pronounce. It was a great adventure finding out answers to help the children. We didn’t have computers back then, and I became involved with research and went to night school to improve my skills,“ said Liz.

 

I asked Liz how she felt about living on the west coast compared to the life she had growing up on a farm on the Prairies.

“Well," she said, ”The first Christmas we had here was downright balmy. We got dressed and went outside and took pictures, and sent them to all our friends and family in the bitter cold of Manitoba. We didn’t say ‘ha ha ha’, but that’s what we meant. The day after Christmas, I ran into one of our neighbours. We lived in an apartment building, and she asked what we had done to celebrate Christmas. I told not much really, my husband had a nap and we had dinner. That was about all. We made an agreement that from then on, we would spend our holidays together, us and this neighbour. So for the next twenty years that what we did. One year at our home and the next at her’s. Whether it was Easter, or Christmas or New Year's. Over the years, it took some planning because if we were out no matter how late on Christmas Eve, the next day if was dinner for up to 20 people. As a child, the holidays started on Christmas Eve and went right through until after New Years. It was nice to bring this tradition here and celebrate with our neighbours. That's what you did.” 

 

Liz and her husband have two grandchildren. Liz enjoys spending ‘alone time’ with each of them; they go out for lunch and then usually some shopping. Liz and her husband celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year. #notastranger

 

*Fact Check - http://imdb.to/1h90Z6w

Day 80 - Keirra

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Day 80 Keirra (1st person I approached)

March 21, 2014 - Keirra was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. She has one older sister, and three step siblings.

“My biological father isn’t in my life, but my step father is the man I call my father. He has always been there for me. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized just how much of a father figure he has been. He’s my Dad,” Keirra told me.

She went to one elementary and one high school.

“I don’t have any friends in my life that I know from elementary school. Pretty much all of the friends I have, I know from high school. But I do appreciate that I never had to try to fit in at a new school, or get to know a new crowd of people like other kids who changed schools might have had to. I just grew up knowing all the other kids.”

 

When Keirra finished school she worked in retail for about year. After that, she started working in care homes.

“It was a Government program where they funded the position and I worked with patients in small home-like settings. The people I cared for and worked with had all kinds of different challenges, ranging from dementia, learning disabilities to mental health problems. All ages, and all kinds of different situations,” Keirra said.

“I did that for about two years, and then I went back to school. I wanted to work with animals and studied to become a Veterinarian Assistant. It was a two year program, and the way it was set-up I got to work and learn at the same time. That was beneficial to my style of learning. I do better in a hands-on environment. I’m not an academic type of person. Plus getting paid meant I didn’t have to be a poor starving student for years either!” 

 

Keirra worked in veterinary care for the next six years.

“I reached a point where I knew I wanted to get out of Melbourne for a while. I had really wanted to go to New York, but that didn’t pan out. I’d love to go to Toronto and do the other coast thing,” she said.

“But I went to Banff and then Kamloops and ended up here in Vancouver. I’ve been here for two months now.” Keirra has spent her time in Vancouver working at a dog daycare in Richmond. 

“I’ve enjoyed Vancouver. It took me a while to get used to seeing so many homeless people. I guess in Melbourne it’s better managed, or there aren’t so many. I’m used to it now, but it definitely took some time getting used to seeing that.”

 

Keirra is on her last few days in Vancouver, and is heading home to Australia next week.

“It’s been a great trip. I came here by myself and didn’t know anyone. My friends said they thought it was too much to travel alone, but I’ve really enjoyed it. I think when you travel by yourself, it makes it easier to meet people and you have to open up to others. I’ve made friends in the time I’ve been here. I’ll be back for sure, maybe later this year. But I’m ready to go home now. It’s time.” #notastranger

Day 79 - Tyler

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Day 79 - Tyler (11th person I approached)

March 20, 2014 - It is ironic that today of all days, with the sun shining and it being the first day of Spring, that I would exceed the highest number of people that said they didn’t want to talk with me (so far in 78 days it has been no more than six “no thanks”). I had the day off work today, and went out early in order to get today’s story, write it and post it as I’m presenting at PechaKucha tonight, and wanted to focus on that this afternoon. Oh well, all good things come to those who wait. Or ask repeatedly.

 

Tyler was born in Prince George, British Columbia. He has one younger sister, and Tyler told me,

“We are close now that we are older. As kids we were a bit combative.”

Tyler’s family moved to the Lower Mainland when Tyler was about four years old, and then moved back to Prince George when Tyler was about eight years old. He completed elementary and high school there. 

 

After high school, Tyler went to University in Prince George.

“I took Computer Sciences, and it’s a four year program, but I took my time doing it. I was in university for five years, completing my under grad degree,” said Tyler.

While in University, Tyler worked in a few fast food jobs, until he got a position with the University at the tech help desk.

“It was relatively easy work, and certainly paid better than the fast food jobs I had,” Tyler said. It also fit in with his curriculum of Computer Sciences. 

 

Once Tyler got his undergrad degree, he started working, and one year later, he decided he wanted to go back to school. Tyler told me,

“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to study, so I took some time looking around. I had taken a class for my undergrad that is relatively new, and had forgotten all about it, until I started doing some research into programs.”

After deciding on a program and processing applications and such, another year passed before Tyler moved to Vancouver to attend the University of British Columbia (UBC), studying Bioinformatics.

“It’s about studying the science of analyzing biological data. There’s a lot of research and working with data. I’m also working at the British Columbia Cancer Agency, so I’m taking a bit longer to complete my graduate degree. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not,” he said.

I remarked that clearly he liked school and learning. 

 

I asked Tyler what he wanted to once he had completed his graduate degree in bioinformatics.

“I’m considering going for my PhD. We’ll see what happens,” Tyler said. In his spare time, and he wasn’t so sure he actually has much, Tyler has had a long interest in Archery.

“There was a really good club in Prince George, but it’s not as accessible here in Vancouver. A friend recently told me about a sword fighting class offered at Duello, a school downtown. It’s medieval sword fighting, so I might look into that.” (*FACT CHECK - see below) #notastranger

 

*Fact Check - academieduello.com

Day 78 - Sina

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Day78 - Sina (2nd person I approached)

March 19, 2014 - Sina was born in Hamadan, Iran and lived there until the family moved to England when Sina was just one year old.

“My father is a University Professor, and when he has sabbaticals, we would travel, and sometimes relocate. He teaches, presents papers and often his time is spent involved with research,” Sina said. He has one younger sister, and the two share a close relationship.

“It is typical of Iranian families. We are all very close and get along well,” Sina says of his family.

At the age of five, his family moved back to Iran, and Sina went to elementary and then high school there. When Sina was 16 years old, the family left Iran again, but this time was a little different.

“In Iran, young men must serve a mandatory two years of military service. This isn’t something that I agree with, and it doesn’t fit in with my mentality or personal views. From what I understand it really isn’t even training, and it’s not the way I want to spend two years of my life. I wouldn’t have been allowed to leave the country to come to Canada, or the United States. There are certain countries that you’re permitted to travel to for religious purposes, such as Syria or Saudi Arabia. I had a ticket to travel to a permitted destination, and once I got through customs and security, I also had a ticket to fly to Canada, and I left Iran that way. Now, I can’t go back, because of not fulfilling my duty to serve in the military. When I made it through customs and was waiting for my flight to Canada, I realized that it would be many years before I would see my friends and some of my family. I couldn’t tell anyone that I was coming here, so I didn’t get to say goodbye. I spent hours in the airport waiting for my flight, crying.” 

 

Sina met his family in Michigan, USA, where his father was once again working during a sabbatical. Eventually the family all moved to Vancouver, and Sina completed high school here. 

“I remember the first day I landed in Vancouver, taking the Canada Line train to where I was staying and looking at the mountains and thinking how beautiful it is here, and how fortunate I am to be living here, “ Sina said as we talked about Vancouver.

“I hope to stay here and to make Vancouver my home, I certainly think of it as home now.” 

 

Sina’s father is challenging the local Iranian authorities, as there is a permit that allows one to travel for educational purposes, and delay military service until ones education is completed.

“I’m hoping that we can get things worked out and then I would hope to go to see my friends and family in Iran later this summer. I haven’t been there for six years. I’m going to the University of British Columbia now, studying biology, and hope to get into med school here, so military service would be many years away, as school is going to take me years,” Sina says with a smile and a shrug of his shoulders.

“I want to be in healthcare, anything medicine related, probably research. I’m not exactly sure yet.”

 

As it happens, I know that tomorrow is Persian New Year (Nowruz), and Sina seemed surprised when I said Happy New Year to him. I asked what plans he had and when he told me he planned to study, I jokingly asked if that was permitted.

“Well yeah, my parents aren’t making an event of it this year. My father is in Iran, and there won’t be any decorations laid out so my mother is ok that I am studying," Sina told me. He also told me a bit more about the celebrations.

"It’s a celebration of the New Year, and Spring and regeneration, so there is usually a table laid out with seven items each beginning with the letter ’S’ such as apples, which in the Farsi alphabet begin with ’S’. It’s about new and regeneration and celebrating nature.”

I said that with his name beginning with an ’S’ that he was a good fit for the celebration table.  He laughed and said sarcastically

“Yes, normally I sit on the centre of the table each year.” #notastranger

Day 77 - Connor

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Day 77 - Connor (3rd person I approached)

March 18, 2014 - Connor was raised in Armstrong, British Columbia, his family relocating there when he was just a year old. He attended one elementary school and one high school. Connor has one brother who is older than he is. His parents are both teachers, and as happens when living in a small rural community, Connor's father was also his geography teacher in high school.

“It really was ok having him as a teacher. I think if anything he might have been a bit harder on me than the other students. He certainly always knew when I had homework to get done,” Connor said. 

 

I asked Connor if he still knew people he went to school with, and he told me,

“There’s really not much to do in Armstrong. It’s a small town and really what a lot of people do is go up North and work, make a lot of money and then get involved with drugs and such. That’s not something I’ve ever been interested in. I am still good friends with one guy who I’ve known since school. We’ve been best friends for a long time. As a matter of fact, I have his name tattooed on my leg, just above my knee, and he has mine tattooed on his leg. It happened one night after we’d had a few beers and we went to see another friend who is a tattoo artist. He joked about the two of us tattooing each other's names and I kinda said I’d be up for it, and so we did!”

I told Connor I thought that was a really great and meaningful thing to have to mark their friendship.

 

After school, Connor worked for a rental company delivering farm equipment such as backhoes and tractors. He saved some money and went travelling for a few months. His high school girlfriend who he had been dating since Grade 10 was attending Hong Kong University, and so Connor went to Hong Kong and from there they travelled through Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

“That trip really opened my eyes,” Connor told me. “I had never been to any really big city, and I went directly from Armstrong to Hong Kong and it was absolutely amazing. I thought it was incredible!”

When the trip was over, Connor’s girlfriend was relocating to Vancouver for school, and so Connor and her moved here together.

“That lasted for a while, but after some time, we ended up going our separate ways,” he said. 

 

Connor got a job working as carpenter's assistant for a horticultural engineering company. “That was a really cool job, It was a great opportunity. The company made large to-scale models of agricultural waterways and bodies of water that lead up to dams. The models were not tabletop sized either. The smaller ones were about 100 feet long, and used water and really demonstrated the complete engineering system. I helped to build them and in time got to learn a lot about how they were planned and constructed,” Connor said.

After three years of working for that company, Connor was laid off, as the work was not consistent, and in order for Connor to be promoted, would have involved him going back to school. 

 

Connor has spent the last few months looking for work, and said

"I ride my bike around everywhere and having had more time last summer to go further, I started looking at houses that had been newly built and would consider the design and what I’d maybe do differently. It occurred to me that through the job at the horticultural engineering firm I was really becoming interested in the design aspect of things.”

Connor is planning to go to school, telling me

“I didn’t take psychics in school, well, because it was Armstrong BC and so I need to take psychics first to upgrade my qualifications. Then I’ll be going to (British Columbia Institute of Technology) BCIT for their four year Architectural Sciences program. It’s architecture, with a focus on the environment and efficiency in design and buildings.”

After that Connor may go on to get his Masters in Architecture.

“I’ll wait and see where the next four years takes me,” he said.

 

When I asked Connor how he thought travelling to South East Asia had impacted his life or outlook he told me,

”I encourage all my friends to travel at some point in their lives. It’s an incredible thing to do. It completely put things in a different perspective me for me. It grounded me and helped me to appreciate what we have here. I have friends who say they’re going to travel, but they’ll say there going to say, Australia, for example. That’s great and all, but it’s relatively similar to Canada. In countries like Cambodia, there are towns and cities that don’t even have garbage resources, or infrastructure. You really need to experience a third world country to really know what it feels like.” #notastranger

Day 76 - Mahara

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Day 76 - Mahara (3rd person I approached)

March 17, 2014 - Mahara was born and raised in North Vancouver. She is the 12th of 14 children. Mahara was raised by her grandparents, while the other children were raised by her parents. Of her childhood, Mahara says life with her grandparents meant she had a low-middle class upbringing, while her siblings were raised in a very poor household. Mahara attended two elementary schools, one junior and one senior high-school. Mahara told me,

“I went to a Catholic elementary school, and in Grade 7, I had a teacher from hell. Truly. She was a lay teacher, not even a nun and it was not a good year. I failed Grade 7. My grandparents didn’t want me to have that teacher again, so I went to a public school and repeated Grade 7.”

 

After high-school, Mahara went to University, studying English.

“I think the idea was that I’d go on to become a teacher, but instead, I became a flower child and dropped out of University,” she tells me with a wry smile.

Mahara had started to move toward the hippie movement in high school, around the age of 16.

“I changed my name to Skyros (sky-rose) at around 20 years old,” she said. “I got the name from Greek mythology, as well as it being the name of one of the Greek Islands. I liked that it sounded like ‘sky rose’ as well,” said Mahara.

She worked in a couple of children's Daycares and if a child wasn’t well enough, Mahara would go to that child’s home and look after them. She had received some training in child care through various government sponsored training programs.

 

At about the age of 28, Mahara attended a talk at the Society of Kabalarians, a harmony of Eastern philosophy and Western science.

“I saw a woman there have an analysis done of her name and her numbers, birth date, month and year. Based upon the numbers in one’s life, the belief is that if you have a  name suited to your numbers, it helps one towards a path of enlightenment. I still have a long way to go,” says Mahara, again with a slight wry smile and and a quick glance at me.

“It was there that I was offered a selection of names that would better suit me. The name Skyros presented problems because most people transposed my first and last names, and then assumed I was a man, based on that information. 'Mahara' just felt right, and I’ve had this name ever since,” she said. 

 

When I asked Mahara about when she had moved on from the hippie stage of her life, she replied that she had done so when the hippie movement ended. I said that I thought some people felt it was still going. We both had a bit of a chuckle at that. Mahara got married and has one daughter. She stayed home and raised her daughter until about the age of four, when Mahara started back in the paid workforce. Through schooling and life experience, Mahara has carved a career for herself in care-giving.

“I worked for a time as an addictions support worker on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. That was hard work, although I certainly met some very special people there. After about four years I had to stop though. The work is so taxing and hard,” Mahara said.

 

For the past twelve years or so, Mahara has been hired on to Masters degree level jobs, working in care and support counselling, with provincial and municipal care facilities. For a time Mahara worked in the education system helping the parents of troubled children with family counselling. She is due to retire from this line of work in just over a year. Mahara then tells me about her future goals.

“I plan to go back to school, and study to become a personal life coach. I’ve benefitted from a life coach myself, and over the years I’ve worked with individuals helping them to attain and maximize their full potential,” she said. 

 

On being a flower child, a mother, changing her name twice, studying Kabalarian Philosophy, offering support counselling and working through a number of years spent helping others, Mahara says of her own enlightenment

“I’m still aspiring.” #notastranger

Day 75 - David

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Day 75 - David (1st person I approached)

March 16, 2014 - I met David on the Cambie Street bridge. He was walking along and strumming his guitar as he walked. I knew there would be a story there, and was happy when he readily agreed to talk with me.

David is a true Vancouverite. He was born at Vancouver General Hospital, and grew up in East Vancouver. He attended Tillicum Elementary School and then went to Templeton Secondary School.

“I grew up in East Vancouver,” David told me, “In the area they now call Hastings Sunrise. Back in the day when we just called it Nanaimo and Hastings.”

David focussed on the arts in high school and was very involved in theatre and acting. He also played the drums, and guitar.

“After I graduated from school, I spent some time messing around with a few other musicians and put together a few different bands. We played a variety of music, and I spent a few years travelling around playing gigs and being a musician,” David said.

He also managed to pick up some work acting as well, but for the most part after finishing school, focussed on his music career. 

 

When David had spent about three years playing in various bands, he decided to go back to school and enrolled in Vancouver Community College’s music program. David told me

“I wanted to learn the ABC’s of music. I knew enough to play the drums, and the guitar, but I wanted to really learn the craft of music. To read it and to write it. It’s one thing to be able play, but another all together to understand the essence and structure behind music.”

While in school, David made an important and unexpected connection with a musician from Peru who played a variety of music ranging from flamenco, latin, peruvian and world beat. David also discovered the Cajon, or beat box/drum as it is sometimes called. The Cajon either has no strings and is just a plain box, called a Peruvian Cajon, or it has guitar strings running up the back of the front panel that one hits, called a Flamenco Cajon and makes more of a snare drum-like sound.

“At the time when I first was learning how to play the cajon, it wasn’t an instrument that was often seen here in Vancouver on the local music scene. Now, NASA are making replicas out of all kinds of different materials. It really shaped and impacted the change I was experiencing in my own music,” David tells me. 

 

One thing that David shared with me that he learned in this particular stage of his journey was about more than the ‘playing’ of music. It was about the sense and sensuality of the music. He told me,

”In order to know how to play well, and that’s not the ABC’s or the reading of sheet music, but about how you respond to your audience, or the crowd. To do that, you must watch the dancers. And sure, they might be pretty girls, or a cool guy with a cigarette behind his ear. But it’s more than that; it’s watching the grandparents dance, watching a newlywed couple dance, the first date, the young people at a club letting go, the children dancing around. That is how you learn to really play. If a drummer says he doesn’t watch the dancers, then he might as well give up music and sell insurance. It’s about more than this,” as he gestures toward his face and shoulders, “It’s about more than all that.”

 

David spent time playing with different groups and when the other musicians he regularly performed with starting having kids, David changed his approach yet again.

“I shut myself away and started to write jingles. I had learned how to play instruments and in school I learned the by-the-book rules and ABC’s of music, and now I wanted to try my hand at something different. I knew what was catchy and what would appeal to a larger audience. I found a certain level of success at it as well. Not necessarily financial success, but the time I spent in a studio, with a producer, a good microphone and some instruments, really helped to build on my musicianship. It felt good,” David said, adding that he thinks every musician should spend time trying the art of writing jingles.

 

While David was working at his music, he also landed a great daytime job.

“I had been walking past the Larrivée Guitar Company on East Cordova Street, and thought I’d drop off a resume. I knocked and John Larrivée opened the door. He was known for a rather direct approach and when I asked if there was a Human Resources office that I could leave my resume with, he replied ‘Yeah’ and held out his hand. I walked away thinking that was that. Two days later, I got a call and the day after that, I started working there. I spent three years working at building and finishing guitars for a company that is arguably one of the finest guitar makers going.” (*FACT CHECK - see below)

Sadly, Larrivée closed their Vancouver operations and moved all the business to their California location. Once again, David took initiative and knocked on a door of a local manufacture that specializes in construction and manufacturing of various times in plastics and wood. Once again, based on his timing and past experience, David was offered a job within a few days.

 

I asked David if he ever busked, or played on the street for money. He told me,

“I like to think of what I do as an artist who is painting a mural. While the artist is painting, people might walk by and stop to look, they might notice him out of the corner of their eye, or might not ever notice the artist painting at all. There is no hat in front of me, I have a regular job that provides what I need. Let them save the money for the person that needs to put out their hat.” #notastranger

 

*Fact Check - http://bit.ly/1nwBm8x

Day 74 - Gee

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Day 74 - Gee (2nd person I approached)

March 15, 2014 - “My name is George, but my friends call me Gee. G E E,” he says, spelling his name for me. “Sure I’d be happy to talk with you. There’s no need to show me your blog. You have an honest face and your approach is one that leads me to believe you,” says Gee when I offer to show him the pages I have bookmarked on my phone.

Gee was born in Solingen, West Germany, to Russian parents.

“My parents were captured by the Nazi’s in Russia and sent to work camps during the war. After the allies liberated Germany, my parents met, and when I was just a year old, the family moved to Brussels, in Belgium,” Gee says.

We spoke of his experience being raised by parents who had survived not only the war, but time in concentration camps.

“My parents shared their feelings and talked at length about those years. I think unlike a lot of youth, I was fortunate, because I listened to them. I learned lessons of life, and appreciation at an early age. Both of my parents also had very good senses of humour. I think that was integral to their well-being and survival.” 

The family lived in Brussels until Gee was about seven years old. He had by this time a younger sister, born when Gee was six. The family boarded a ship and sailed to Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada. Gee tells me,

“ I remember clearly the decks on that ship. Where we slept was one very large open area, with rows and rows of bunk beds. I recall being on the upper deck with Dad and watching the crew empty very large containers of garbage into the water. And one got away, and I was standing on the ships edge and watching in wonderment as it sank out of sight,“ Gee said.

“The ship was carrying many ‘displaced persons’ or DP’s as we were called. Families with children, all taking advantage of an opportunity to start a new life. The choices were the United States, Canada or Australia. I wish I knew why my parents chose Canada, but I don’t.”

The family ended their journey in Montreal.

“I was put into an English-speaking school. The time of year apparently didn’t fit in with the French speaking school, although I had been in a French speaking school in Brussels. We spoke Russian at home, and it seemed like overnight, I learned how to speak English. I don’t recall it being difficult, but I certainly didn’t speak English when we arrived in Montreal,” he said. 

Gee lived in Montreal until five years ago. When I asked him what he did after school, and for all those years in Montreal afterwards, Gee asked if I minded if we didn’t talk about that. I explained that this was his story, and if he didn’t want to talk about something, then we wouldn’t. By way of explanation, Gee offered,

“I feel that when someone asks you what you do, or what you did, it paints a static picture of you. That picture might not really represent who you are. A person reading this might form idea’s and then I become that man that did such and such. I’m not interested in what a person does, or did. I’m interested in what is in a persons heart and mind.” 

I asked Gee if he was close to his sister,

“Yes we are close, but I would like if she opened up more. She has been married three times, and I’ve never asked her about that. I accept that that is her life. She is involved in Scientology, and I’d like to know more about that, but of course, contrary to the ideals of Scientology, she isn’t allowed to speak about it. I don’t care what she does, but I wish I knew more of her heart.”

I asked Gee how he came to live in Kelowna, and he told me,

“A friend of mine had reconnected with someone I knew many years before, and through him, I reconnected with this friend, who lives in Kelowna. He suggested that life was good in Kelowna and I was looking to make some changes, so I put my house up for sale. It all happened so quickly! My house in Montreal sold in what seemed like 15 minutes, so I packed my bags. I was single and had no real ties to keep me from moving, and so I moved to Kelowna.”

Upon reflection, Gee says he might have decided on somewhere other than Kelowna, saying

“It’s a little white bread and straight laced, you know. Especially after living in Montreal for so many years. Montreal is alive, and vibrant. Kelowna is a little slow for me. But at least the weather is better. I used to say of Montreal during the long winter days, ‘It looks like it’s going to be another Grey Poupon day.’ ” #notastranger

Day 73 - George

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Day 73 - George (1st person I approached)

March 14, 2014 - George was walking towards me while looking at his phone and in my mind, came across like he was in a hurry. When I attempted to stop him to ask if he’d talk to me, he didn’t really come to a full stop, but I knew I had his attention because of his eye contact. So I walked with him a bit while I told him what I was doing, and asked if he’d talk with me. He came to a stop, told me he was going to meet a friend, but said he’d talk if I could make it quick.

 

George was born in Mexico, not far from Guadalajara. He spent all of his youth there, and after high school, went right into college to study computer engineering.

“I made it about half way through the program. For some reason a group of students suddenly dropped out from the class. The Principal told me that the school couldn’t afford to run the classes for just three students, and that I would have to wait until the class that started after me had caught up, then pick up with the new larger class, in about six months time. That's when I decided to come to Vancouver,” George said.

A friend of his had been to Vancouver a few times and had suggested to George that maybe he should consider moving here.

“At first my family were concerned. I was only 21, and didn’t speak any English, and I only knew one person. I didn’t have a job either,” he says.

“As soon as I got here, I took whatever work I could find, mostly as a labourer. I then got into learning how to pour and work with concrete, and I’ve been doing that ever since. It’s a good job, and a skill that I can do anywhere in the world.” 

 

I asked George about his ability to speak English so well. He has a thick Mexican accent, but I had no trouble understanding him at all. I wondered if he had gone to school for English classes.

“No, as you can probably tell my English isn’t so good (‘not true,’ I told him). I had a girlfriend for three years and we lived together, she helped me a lot with my English, and I’ve learned from working with others. I’ve been here in Vancouver for eight years now.”

 

George has one younger brother. His brother came to visit last year, with an idea to relocate to Vancouver permanently. George told me,

“My brother had just finished University and is an architect. He stayed for a while, but he decided that he really didn’t want to live here. He would have had to go for more schooling and that really wasn’t what he wanted to do. He didn’t like the idea of starting again from zero. For me, that wasn’t a problem. Soon I will get my permanent residency.” #notastranger

Day 72 - Rachel

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Day 72 - Rachel (4th person I approached)

March 13, 2014 - Rachel was born in Richmond, British Columbia (BC). When she was about four years old, her family moved to Langley, and she spent the next ten years growing up on a farm. 

“We raised horses, pigs, chickens, rabbits, cats and dogs. The farm across the street had Llamas and next door to them were cows. We all worked together, so I had a lot of animals around me. I guess I kind of took it for granted that I got to ride horses all the time,“ Rachel recalls.

 

Rachel had attended only one elementary school, but moved around to a few different high-schools.

“High school was tough for me. I felt a bit alone. I didn’t feel like I fit in. I started drinking when I was about 13 or 14, and was eventually kicked out of school. I look back now and wonder how anyone thought that kicking a 14 year old out of school was the answer to someone who was having issues with alcohol.”

The drinking lasted for about a year, and when Rachel’s grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, Rachel decided to stop drinking and spent a lot of her time looking after her grandmother.

“I never went back to school. I took night classes and did correspondence until I completed high school,” said Rachel.

 

After completing high-school, Rachel went to the Art Institute and studied Culinary Arts and Hospitality.

“Ironically I was learning about wines in the program, because working in the food industry, the two go hand in hand. You don’t need to consume wine to know about it though.”

Rachel got a job working at the prestigious Vancouver Club, and worked there for three years. She told me

“People's attitude toward food really started to stand out to me. Here I was serving some of the richest people in the country, and if something wasn’t exactly as they thought it should be, they wouldn’t eat it. There are people who can’t pay their rent, or buy groceries, and it just seemed so wasteful. Our thoughts about food and the food industry are really messed up.”

 

While she was attending culinary arts school, Rachel started volunteering at a shelter for women. The shelter supports women who are in the first stages of transitioning from detox for drug and alcohol addiction, and helps them to relearn basic life skills. On the day that Rachel graduated from the Culinary Arts program, she became a vegan.

“Working at the shelter, with people who had very little, really impacted my views on the need for a healthy diet and more so on body image. I was helping women who couldn’t eat because they were sick because of their addictions to drugs and alcohol. And then there are the women who get sick because their told they are too fat,” she says passionately. 

 

Rachel is now an on-call worker for the shelter, and has gone back to school again to get her certification to become an addiction counsellor.

“I want to be a counsellor. I plan to go to university and get my Bachelors degree in psychology, with a minor in sexuality studies. And then after that, I’ll go for my Masters degree in Psychology.” 

 

While we are talking, Rachel is drinking a green smoothie. I notice that she has a bike helmet with her, and I ask her about bicycling.

“Yeah, I bike everywhere, it’s my mode of transportation. I try to eat healthy, to look after myself and exercise.” #notastranger

Day 71 - Gary

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Day 71 - Gary (3rd person I approached)

March 12, 2014 - When I first saw Gary, I knew I wanted to talk with him. His long hair was tied in a pony tail, and his hat had an "I love East Van" pin on the side. There was just something about him and I wanted to hear his story. He was talking to a guy on a narrow side-street. Gary was on the sidewalk on one side of the street, the guy he was talking with was on the sidewalk on the other side. I waited to see if Gary would walk towards me when he was finished talking. Sure enough, he did. He took a seat on a little bench, and so I moved in for the approach! At first he said he wasn’t really into talking with me, that he had his “doubts about the whole social media thing.” I thanked him for his time, and turned to walk away. He then asked me a few questions about my project, so I showed him the Facebook page on my phone. I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to share much with me, and then he asks me

“If I talk with you, does that mean that you got what you need for today?”

I said yes, and then he asked

“Will it be okay if I smoke while we’re talking?”

Done! We traded sides so I’d be upwind of his cigarette, and we spent the next 45 minutes talking.

 

Gary was born in Verdun, Montreal.

"We moved several times when I was a child, but it was always within the Montreal area," Gary says.

He is the youngest of three children,

“But it’s a bit complicated. I essentially was raised as an only child. My mother had a child out of wedlock, before meeting my father, and her mother raised that boy. I didn’t find out that the man I thought was my Uncle, was really my brother until I was about 14 years old. And then my mother met my father, they had my sister and then a year later had me. It was too much for my mother having the two of us so close in age. My mother was having some challenges with her mental health and well being. My father arranged for his mother and his aunt to raise my sister, leaving me as an only child. It was a tough time for my mother,” Gary told me. 

 

When Gary was 18, after completing high school, Gary was enrolled in the first CEGEP program rollout in Montreal. CEGEP is essentially a two year preparatory college program, bridging the gap between high-school and preparing students for University. Gary was told that there would be no testing and no tuition fees. His goal was to get into University, to study Engineering. Four months into the program, his teacher, flustered by the students lack of attention and interest, introduced a testing qualification, and with that Gary quit CEGEP.

“There was about 15 of us, all friends from high-school and the neighbourhood kids who had been friends for some time. We all moved to a location north of Montreal, still in Quebec and started a commune. We were all what would later become known as 'hippies.' We were starting to experiment with drugs, and spent a lot of time smoking pot and doing acid. That lasted for about a year,” Gary says, with a smile, and shaking his head. 

 

Gary moved back to Montreal and tried the CEGEP program again, this time hoping to get into arts and education. He goes on to tell me

“That was a major turning point in my life, that year. Some of my friends from the commune decided it was time to ‘stick it to the man’ if you will, and basically, started committing robberies. We would rob corner stores and steal the cash. There was some talk of working our way up to doing a bank robbery. One night, I was at home asleep. There was a group of us all living together, and the cops raided the house. Two of my friends had committed an armed robbery and got caught. The cops put a number of things together and we were all charged, and I got four years in a federal penitentiary. I ended up serving almost two years in a medium security prison in Quebec.”

Gary participated in the Federal Training Program, and learned about computers while serving his time.

“It definitely was turning point in my life,” Gary says.

 

Once out of prison, Gary worked at odd jobs, doing what he could to pay the bills. He got into a relationship with a woman who was originally from Burnaby, but was living in Montreal.

“We had a young daughter, and my girlfriend wanted to move back to Vancouver. Jobs were hard to find, and the economy wasn’t doing very good, so we headed west. I took what work I could and then we had our second child, a boy. It was tough, providing for two children and making ends meet,” he said. 

 

A friend offered Gary a job opportunity that took the family to Toronto for a number of years, and Gary married the mother of his children.

“Things were good until my wife said she wanted to move back to Vancouver. She moved back and took the kids. I spent a while longer in Toronto because I had a good job. But I missed the kids, so I packed everything up and when I got back to Vancouver, my wife told me she wanted a divorce. I’ve stayed in Vancouver because I wanted to be close to my kids.”

Gary’s daughter has three children now, and his son is expecting his first child later this year.

“I spend my days visiting friends, and keeping busy. I have a great relationship with my kids. I have my walking routes that I go to. I like to come here to this spot where we’re sitting now and sit in the sun and watch the world go by. I’m officially two years too young to be retired, but I’m on disability now, so I guess I’m done working.” 

 

As we parted ways, I thanked Gary for spending time with me and for sharing his story. We continued talking for a little while longer, then we shook hands and went our separate ways. As I walked along the street towards home, I couldn’t help but smile. Gary had really opened his heart and shared such a great story. It feels good knowing that Gary is definitely now #notastranger.