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Thursday, June 22, 2017

My Journey back in time

The last few weeks have been quite interesting.  First, there is this wedding I was hosting a few Saturdays ago. I met people I haven’t seen for a very long time. It was so great. Then I attended a funeral the following week, and boy was I surprised to see folks I grew up with that I haven’t seen for ages.

Just a few hours ago, I was coming from a meeting and who do I see? At first I couldn’t believe my eyes. A former colleague of mine back 15 years ago at the Radio station in Burundi. I didn’t even know he was in Canada (we’ve been in the same city for 3 years and I didn’t even know it). He told me that he still has the tapes of our show! We shared great memories indeed.

All these people I met brought me back in time

Time really flies. You know that you’re getting old when you see kids you sow being born saying that they are about to go to college. I am exaggerating here, but it is shocking how kids grow so fast
We just celebrated my daughter’s fifth birthday. Wasn’t she born yesterday? I can’t believe she is five years old now. I have to tell you. It is a fun age. She is schooling me in everything now. She just decreed a law that states that we won’t be speaking English at home anymore. “On parle en Fran├žais” she says. As a good citizen, I have to obey the law. Mind you, she started to learn French a few months ago, and now it is the official home language.

Since she was two years old, my daughter has been suffering from what the doctors call enlarged adenoids and enlarged tonsils which resulted in severe snoring and difficulties in breathing while asleep. We saw a specialist who gave us some medication. It worked for a while, but it was not enough. It was really unbearable to see her struggling to sleep night after night. During the day, she would be the laughing and dancing kid we all know, and at night it would be something else.
Finally, the doctors suggested that surgery was inevitable

They did all the tests and set up a date. It was a quick surgery and we stayed at the hospital overnight
I had tears in my eyes when I saw her crying when she woke up after the surgery. I knew it was temporary, but still, it hurts to see your kid in pain

The recovery went smoothly for a few days, and then she started complaining about having pain in her ears. It got even worse that we had to run to the emergency room. We ended up staying at the hospital overnight. We were finally released in the afternoon, and from then on she started to feel better

She is completely healed now, and when she sleeps there is no sound at all. It is as if she is not in the room. Years of suffering are now gone. They are a distant memory

When we have been suffering for a while and it gets worse, it is a sign that things are about to get better for good. My daughter reminded me of that fact a few weeks ago. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” says the Bible

Suffering is a good thing if we have the right perspective of the events. That is my opinion

Moral of the story? Do you want to end your suffering? Come meet my daughter and you will be speaking French

Always a pleasure

The Journeyman

Thursday, June 15, 2017

My Journey with Capone

Some call him President, some others call him Gisage, and many know him as Capone. His real name is Alphonse Barikage. He is a great and brilliant guy. 

When he comes to our Basketball court on Wednesdays evening, we all know that the fun is just about to begin. He has some old school basketball moves that remind me of Kareem Abdul Jabaar’s sky hook (I have the footage to prove it, but I won’t share it here…)

What I didn’t know was that Capone is a great writer. He just published a piece in one of Toronto’s big newspapers, and it is a real work of art. As we are about to celebrate Fathers’ day, I thought that the timing of the article is just perfect

Here it is. Ladies and Gentlemen, here comes Alphonse Barikage, a.k.a Capone

A walk down memory lane

When I reach for my son's hand, I feel my father's palm in mine, Alphonse Barikage writes

How would I be remembered?

The question on how I will be remembered after I die has not been one that I have spent much time pondering. That was, until a few years ago, when my then 8-year-old son – yes you heard it right – raised the topic with me.

It was a beautiful spring day. For the first time that year, the sun was full out. Marcus and I decided to walk to the local library to borrow some books. Children were playing soccer and others, shooting hoops on the street.

Cars were driving slowly, honking occasionally to get the children's attention and have them clear the way. Neighbours were trading jokes and pleasantries across the street from their porch. You could tell that everyone was happy that winter was finally over.

Marcus and I had been walking for about 10 minutes in silence, taking in the cacophonous sounds from the street and the fresh smell emanating from a soil that has just emerged from a long winter.

Marcus interrupted our silence.

"Papa, have you noticed that every time we go for a walk, you are always holding my hand"
"Really?" I said. It was probably something I was doing instinctively, almost like breathing, in a protective gesture.

"I do it to keep you safe, Marcus," I continued. "There are many cars and too many distracted drivers. I don't want you to run into traffic."

At that point, images from my childhood in Burundi, where I was born, started rolling in my head. It was not just one, but several images rolling out, almost like a slide show. In each of those memories, I was walking hand in hand with my dad.

In the most vivid image, my dad was walking me to school for the first time. I was five years old. It was early in the morning and we had taken a shortcut, away from the main road. We were on narrow path, surrounded by tall grass. The grass, once all green, had turned dry after three months of a harsh dry season.

That morning, I had woken up early from the excitement. As we got closer to the school, my excitement started turning into anxiety. The fear of the unknown was settling in. Then, something magical happened. Every time I squeezed my dad's hand, the anxiety would ease. I still remembered it as if it were yesterday.

I also remember us walking to my first appointment at the dentist. Similarly, my anxiety eased after holding my dad's hand. There are several other moments such as this one in my early life.

My dad died suddenly when I was 15. A heart attack took him at the relatively young age of 60. He was speaking to my younger sister when disaster struck. A teacher, he was helping her prepare for an upcoming exam.

Only a few pictures of him remain. In one photo, he is standing, with the horizon as a background, holding my oldest brother's hand. I can see my brother's small hand disappearing into my dad's large palm.

This is the picture of my dad that I like the most.
I went back to Marcus and said: "Marcus, do you know that my dad also used to hold my hand when we went for a walk?"

"Cool!" Marcus said "Do you also think your grandpa used to hold your dad's hand when they went for a walk?" he asked.

I had no idea, but that image of my dad and his dad walking up or down a hill, hand in hand, somewhere in Rwanda, the country where my dad was born 95 years ago, made sense to me.
"Probably," I finally replied.

"Awesome! When I grow up and go for a walk with my son, I will hold their hand just like you and my grandpa did. So this way, holding my son's hand will always remind me of you, long after you are gone." Marcus smiled.

I smiled back.

"And, what would you do, if you have a daughter?" I asked.
"A boy or a girl, it doesn't matter. I will hold their hand to remember you," Marcus replied.
I again smiled and squeezed Marcus's hand as we continued our trip to the library.

Had my dad been holding my hand because he wanted to remember his dad, and was I offering my son my hand to remember him, as Marcus suggested? It had never occurred to me. But now I could see how this could be possible.

We reached the library, where our conversation veered into less weighty topics.
From that day on, when I visit a park and I see a father playing soccer or baseball with their child, I cannot stop myself from wondering whether the father is just playing or whether something much deeper is at play.

Is the father trying to relive a joyous moment from their own childhood? Is the father trying also to keep their departed father's memory alive?

Not too long ago, I took Marcus to skate at a local skating rink. As I was tightening his skate's laces, I wondered whether I was starting a new intergenerational tradition. Will Marcus also remember me when tightening the laces of his child's skates?

Alphonse Barikage

Thursday, June 8, 2017

My Journey with Heather, Part 2

I know you were waiting for the rest of my friend Heather’s story. I wasn’t able to do anything last week as my daughter had a (successful) surgery. Everything else had to stop. She is doing fantastic now, so I am back.

I am not going to ask if you missed me because I know the answer already. Don’t worry, I am here to stay. Aren’t you glad?

Back to Heather.

I knew she was returning to Toronto on May 19. I was really looking forward to meeting her again as I knew she had a lot to share… and wow was I blown away.

I finally met her one afternoon and we went to one of my favourite places: Tim Hortons. For those of you who are reading this blog outside of Canada, Tim Hortons is a coffee place where you can find the second best coffee and second best tea in the world (in my opinion). Now, if you are curious to find out about the best coffee and tea in the world (I know you are), try Burundian coffee and tea, then we will talk.

I am digressing. Back to Heather.

As we sat down to drink our second best tea in the world (don’t you think I should stop bragging about Burundian tea?), I simply said to her, “Tell me everything from the moment I left you at the airport.”

“I am a changed person,” she said. “God has worked on me in a big way and I now see things in a different way,” she continued.

By then, she had my full attention.

Before leaving for Jamaica, Heather contacted a family member down there who agreed to host her during her stay. She had just enough money to survive. Did I mention she had no clue what she was going to do in Jamaica? All she knew was there was a voice inside of her that urged her to go. She made a list of what she wanted (we will come to that later in the story).

When she landed in Kingston Jamaica, they were waiting for her.

The first week was quite calm. She was staying in a modest room in one of the poorest areas of the city. She was patiently waiting for her next move. Then, her host started to act a little negative to her. Something was strange. Why was she suddenly changing her ways? Heather started to feel a little uncomfortable. She thought, maybe her host was expecting her to pay rent. She explained to her that her budget was very tight, but it didn’t seem to ease the situation

As time went by, the situation became worse. Her host was being even more confrontational. Heather had to do something. She approached someone who has been coming to visit and told him about the situation. It turned out that one of the neighbours had a room for rent. Her parents (who were occupying the room) had just left for a trip.

Long story short, Heather was able to secure the room for a reasonable price. Did I tell you that when her host found out that Heather had moved out she went ballistic? From her room, Heather could hear her shouting, cursing and swearing very loudly.

“God’s hands were upon me, and He was protecting me, “Heather told me. 
Do you know what happened to the lady who cursed Heather?  The very next day, all that she was selling at the market place (that was her job) burned out in a wild fire. She lost EVERYTHING!

For the second time, Heather got my attention again. Are you kidding me?

For a few weeks, Heather became more comfortable even though, with a tight budget, it was hard for her to make ends meet as she did not have access to the kitchen in the house in which she lived. She had to eat out every day (or go many days without food).

All of a sudden, her new landlord started to act negatively towards Heather. “Not again!” Heather thought. As the days went by, it got worse.

One afternoon came the announcement from the landlord, “You have to find another place. My parents are coming back soon, so I will need the room.” Heather was shocked!  How could she say things like this knowing that Heather had paid rent for the entire month? She couldn’t believe it.
She had to catch some air, and she was hungry. She went out looking for a place to buy soup, just to find out that there was no more soup. “Just my luck,” she thought. She went to another store to buy a beef patty.

She had nowhere to go; she had no friend, and no hope.

As she ate her patty, a guy riding a bike passed by her and said, “I can see you are really enjoying your patty.” “Not really,” said Heather.

The conversation went on for hours. The guy even invited her to go say hi to his mother. They met up the next day at his place. It was then that Heather discovered the guy had a six year old daughter who was disabled. The daughter gave a big hug to Heather, so big that her father was shocked to see how the two were connected. Her daughter had never greeted anyone the way she did with Heather.
Later that evening, Heather shared with her new friend her story to which the guy said, “My house is your house. You can stay here as long as you want. For six years, I have raised my daughter alone as her mother left us because she was disabled. It has been tough and I have been constantly praying to God to send her a new mom.  And here you are...”

When Heather said those words, I broke into tears.

As Heather was sharing the story with me, she showed me pictures of the gorgeous daughter, Heather’s new “friend” (who, I think now is more than a friend hahaha), his amazing house and garden with plenty of fruit trees.

Do you remember I told you Heather had a list of what she wanted before going to Jamaica? It was EXACTLY what she had on the list: A good man, somebody to care for (the daughter), a comfortable home with a garden of fruit trees and a… dog. Guess what? This guy has a dog. How can this be possible?

Heather is now in Toronto for a few weeks but she will head back to Jamaica for a new chapter of her life. A life that she has chosen, a life that she has created.

Think of what she had to go through to get there. Think of the coincidences that had to happen for her to meet her new man (kicked out of her room, going out to buy soup to find out that there was no more soup, then go to find another store to buy a beef patty, walk on the street to meet a man on a bike). How about the guy who had been praying for six years, asking God to send a mother to his daughter… and then came Heather, the answer to his prayers?

If you ask my opinion, I will say that God directed Heather’s path. He opened some doors, shut some others, He allowed “challenges” to happen to her, but along the way, He knew what He was doing. He was answering Heather’s prayers.

I am happy for you Heather.

Moral of the story? Do you want your prayers to be answered? Come join me and we will drink the second best tea in the world.

Always a pleasure


The Journeyman