For the second year in a row, I celebrated Canada day a little different than most other years of my life. Last year it actually passed quite quietly. I was surrounded by my fellow EWB volunteers, on the shores of Lake Kariba in Southern Zambia. We wished each other “Happy Canada Day”, and our British friend who ran the lodge we were staying at shared a drink with us, but not much else. Those of you who know me will know that this is a little bit off character for me, as I am a bit of a patriot. At the time however, we were in the middle of a retreat, full of some pretty intense sessions on organisational development, influencing behaviour change, and pushing our own personal development. Sometimes during these retreats the world outside can pass by in a blur.
This year however, I was not at an EWB retreat, but on the way to one. Most of the other EWB volunteers had already arrived a few days previous at Lake Malawi, and were waiting for myself and two other volunteers, my good friends Nina and Thulasy. It was a multi day journey, and the morning of July 1st found us in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, a few hours drive from the lake. The previous day we had made the almost 700km trek from Lusaka, and were pretty tired. As the other OVs were doing some training that we didn’t need to be a part of (the rest of the group had just arrived in Zambia and Malawi in February, so were doing a few extra things that those of us who have been around longer didn’t need to attend) we weren’t due at the lake until the evening, so we took our time waking up, and wandering Lilongwe before catching a bus.
The three of us exchanged "Happy Canada Day" wishes with each other as we awoke, and even set off a small firework (tiny really, I swear) at the guesthouse we were staying at, but it was a conversation that Thulasy and I had over breakfast, and that extended onto our bus ride, and then again into a bumpy ride in the back of a rundown pickup truck that was my true “Canada Day” moment for this year. I would love to say that our conversation was about maple leaves, multi-coloured forests in the fall, lakes as smooth as glass, the Rocky Mountains, hockey, or mounds of crisp, fresh snow, but it was of a slightly different flavour. Let me explain, but a word of warning first; this may not make your heart burst with pride, and it may just make you think…or at least I hope it does...
Thulasy and I had just finished breakfast at Summer Park, a nice outdoor café style restaurant in Lilongwe, and were relaxing in the shade of a big tree enjoying our tea. The tall green trees and cool breeze (we’re at the tail end of the cold season in Southern Africa right now) made me a little bit nostalgic for the Canadian spring that I have now missed two years in a row, and I remarked how I was a little bit bummed to not be in Canada on Canada Day. I explained to Thulasy my slightly higher than average level of patriotic pride, and she asked me what it was about Canada that I loved so much (not because she disagreed with me, but rather out of curiosity). Without pause I answered “Well I love…”.
I sat with mouth gaping for a moment. It’s not that I didn’t have an answer. On the contrary, I’ve actually thought about this many times in my life. However as my answer was on the verge of leaving my mouth it occurred to me that since coming to Zambia, since seeing beyond my own country, my own culture, beyond the fraction of the world’s population that I belong to which is nowhere near representative of the rest of the planet, I haven’t really re-examined these reasons. Why do I love Canada? Why do I beam with pride when I hear our anthem, or see our flag? Those few seconds of silence started Thulasy and I on a fairly deep conversation about our country, its values, and how they matched up with our own.
While I can’t possibly capture everything we talked about in this post, I’ll try to summarize our discussion in the big questions we asked each other:
- What do you personally love about Canada?
- Do Canadians as a whole love their country? If so, why?
- Do we as Canadians really understand what being “Canadian” means, both to us and the rest of the world?
- Are the images of “Canada” and “being Canadian” that we love real, or are they images that haven’t existed other than in our minds for many years now, if they ever did?
- Is Canada everything you want it to be, and if not, what does your ideal Canada look like? What will it take to get there?
A little intense for a breakfast conversation under a tree, I know, but nonetheless my mind keeps wandering back to these questions whenever I find myself with time to just sit and think. I made the decision that morning to carefully re-examine my image of Canada, and what being Canadian really means. You’ll be happy to know that I’m still intensely patriotic. My heart still pounds at the sight of our flag, and those first few notes of our anthem will always make me stop what I am doing and listen with pride, but that question still remains on my mind; “What do I, and all Canadians, want Canada to be, and what can I do to help get us there?”
As I said, our conversation continued on the bus, and in the back of a beat-up old pickup, and before long we found ourselves on the shores of beautiful Lake Malawi. I had a great week, surrounded by my great Canadian friends, and some wonderful Malawians, and I realized one thing; I love people, and I want to live in a country that loves and values people, with no exception. I feel that this is the first of many articulated thoughts on what I want Canada to be, but you’ll have to be patient, I think this process will take time.
I’d challenge you as well to think about those questions above, especially number one and number five. I’d love to hear your responses. Post them as a comment on here if you like. If you’d rather not, feel free to email me (email@example.com). Even if you don’t really want to do that, at least think about them for yourselves. If you’re not Canadian, think about these questions for your own country.
While July 1st 2008 may have been different than most of the other July 1sts that I’ve experienced, I feel as though it may turn out to be one of the most important for me, in terms of my Canadian identity and pride.
I hope everyone back home celebrated in style, and enjoyed your day. I definitely enjoyed mine. From all of us here in Zambia and Malawi, Happy Canada Day!!!