Owning Pets: Slavery and why people actually don’t have a problem with it

Disclaimer: I always speak in general terms, and am fully aware that exceptions are everywhere. This is meant to be an opinion piece and not a means to judge individuals. That being said, I do use it to judge society as a whole as well as taking a shameful look in the mirror.

I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that owning a pet is akin to owning a slave, and we as a society are as lost as the ancient Athenian citizens of the 5th century BCE. The idea first came to mind years ago, but became articulable only recently when I asked myself: Can primates outside of Homo actually own pets, even from a conceptual level? The famous “Koko” came to mind, a lowland Gorilla that supposedly learned 1,000 signs of ASL, can understand 2,000 words of English, albeit does not make use of grammar/syntax. Koko has been reported to have passed the mirror test, showing the ability to identify self, shown to report personal memories and use deceptive language. Suffice to say, Koko has shown the ability to learn, extract data, distinguish future/past events and is sufficiently self-aware. In 1983 it was claimed that Koko asked researchers at The Gorilla Foundation that it wanted a pet, and a year and a half later she received a kitten named “All Ball”. At All Ball’s passing in December of 1984, Koko expressed her sadness by saying “bad, sad, bad”. It is unclear to me what Koko’s motivations were for acquiring a pet, but the need was clearly there.

So why is Koko’s desire relevant to this discussion? Let me explain myself. Humans are arguably smarter and less hairy (also arguably) great apes. We seem to share and even understand Koko’s desire for keeping a pet. Since the domestication of the canine, as far back as 34,000 years ago we have used animals as helpers, various form of comfort, means of protection, food security and to increase our productivity (namely in agriculture). Food aside, and to add ‘used for sex’, humans have also been used under these premises, but as persons in bondage. Societies past and present have kept slaves, and in my opinion, slavery is the most grotesque violation of inalienable human rights. This expression “human rights”, this string of two words, is in it of itself ‘specist’, but more on that later. To keep this brief I will list two examples, an ancient Greek one and a 14th century Islamic one.

From a linguistic and thus conceptual point of view the Greeks had many words to describe a slave, one such term is ‘dmōs’ a general term referring to war prisoners taken as booty, that is to say, taken in as ‘property’. Another word the classical Greeks used was ‘andrapodon’ which literally means ‘one with the feet of a man’.  In both these cases, a slave was conceptually not considered a human being, described merely as ‘property’ and a thing ‘with human feet’ (human like). Thus, a keeper could treat a slave in any manner they saw fit, since no recognition of humanness is applied, therefore no attached rights. A 14th century Islamic scholar named Ibn Khaldun once claimed that the “Black nations are, as a rule, submissive to slavery, because [they] have little that is human and possess attributes that are quite similar to those of dumb animals”. His statement is obvious; to him Africans had no rights, simply because they were not really full-fledged humans. With this definition: “slave = non-human/sub-human”, it is difficult to apply judgment. It is comparable to applying ethical judgment to a man or woman who destroys a ‘thing’, which they were not fully aware was a sentient being in the first place. It only becomes an ethical dilemma when awareness is involved.

That being said, I now make the bold claim that animals are: A.) classified as non-human or sub-human, B.) since non-humans or sub-humans can be kept as slaves, we can conclude  that C.) animals can be kept as slaves, and thus synonymous to pets (since there is no discernible difference).

However, some will argue that there are clear distinctions. In fact, arguments that can be used to distinguish the two terms: ‘pet’ and ‘slave’ are attributed to how they are treated, educated, fed and even how the keeper feels about the kept. This is built in the definition of the word ‘pet’, stating that a pet is “any domesticated or tamed animal that is kept as a companion and cared for affectionately”. But who are we kidding, slaves have been treated well (human rights violation aside), educated, fed well and most certainly have been loved, and conversely, pets have been left to starve, tortured, physiologically abused and loathed. The domestication argument is a very poor argument to own pets. I have heard this word being thrown around when debating this topic. The argument goes that due to human intervention, animals that have been tamed or domesticated have in fact become dependent, and thus cannot survive alone and requiring keeping. Clearly this is flawed. Have we not seen feral cats and dogs, seen wild American horses, dingos and stray rabbits in Australia? If you haven’t, you’ve been in a city full of pampered ‘pets’, for far too long. There is really only one, already mentioned difference between the two terms; one is applied to non-humans (generally speaking).

Allegedly Koko nurtured, expressed tenderness and kindness to All Ball. So why did Koko want a pet in the first place? I think it safe to say, and you may disagree, but Koko wanted to have a thing to love/nurture and to have love/company in return. In modern times men trade woman and children as sex slaves, getting pleasure and a feeling of power/control, a sort of twisted love, desire and comfort. These women have no choice, and they are qualified by the expression ‘having been dehumanized’.  All Ball didn’t have a choice either, nor do any kept domestic animal. Since Koko didn’t hunt, eat kittens, herd cattle, or produce anything else, much like you and me, I think we can say that Koko wanted love/company back from All Ball. I at least appear to get that from Papu our golden doodle (cutest dog in the universe). Off course we can seek these things from others as well, but the essential difference is that ‘pets’ like ‘slaves’ do not have a choice. One can ask why we train (educate) our pets to react to verbal and physical gestures? The haunting answer is simple: “so we can control them”, there is a reason why they are called commands, and not interrogatives. Could Koko have wanted someone to control as well, and yes I meant to use the word someone?

By now you are probably still fixed by the idea that ‘pet’ and ‘slave’ are not the same thing, still fixed with the sensation that you cannot possibly be compared to a slave keeper, even a really kind and compassionate one, yet the ugly truth is that we are, and we are propagation agents of that very concept.

Within English, and likely other languages we hear phrases like “sold like animals”, “treated like animals” when referring to slaves. Does this not entail that we see animals in a different light? Let me provide you a list of what we can and do to animals just to make a point:

  • We can and do euthanize animals ‘because they are suffering’ (disregard consent, control life)
  • We can and do spay and neuter animals without their consent (control reproduction)
  • We can and do keep animals in cages and confined interiors (control movement)
  • We can and do modify animals, i.e. declaw, remove voice boxes (control behavior)
  • We can and do attach animals to machinery or tools (forced labor)

Yet if we apply even one of these points to humans, it becomes despicable, and unethical. Society does not apply inalienable rights to animals, much like the ancient Greeks did not apply inalienable rights to non-humans, and the Berbers of the 14th century did not apply inalienable rights to sub-humans. Are we seeing a pattern yet?

The underlying issue is that society as a whole does not recognize other sentient beings; we are unwilling or unable to accept non-human intelligence, self-awareness, and consciousness. We are in essence, specists. We favor our species over others, and assign different values, rights, or special considerations to non-Homo sapiens. A recent ruling in the United States ruled that Kiko a chimpanzee living in a cage “is not a legal person with a right to be free, or at least less-imprisoned”. Kiko is now destined to live his remaining years isolated in a cage watching cartoons.

The problem poised here is not if a chimpanzee is a legal person but if it is sentient. The highest of courts in North America have not intervened on the rights of Great Apes, or any other animal. So why do we not see a problem with owning pets? Of course we don’t have a problem; we simply do not recognize it as a ‘problem’, much like the Athenian citizenry who didn’t recognize that holding sentient beings in bondage was unethical. We don’t have an issue with keeping pets, because semantically the word ‘pet’ isn’t inherently pejorative, nor does it carry connotations of ‘property’. That is the kicker, the lovely euphemism of property (slavery).

We cannot solve what we refuse or cannot see, this is why society really doesn’t have a problem with slavery. It just doesn’t know it. Rebuttals are welcomed and encouraged!

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Second Attempt

Clearly not the best blogger out there, but at least I think about blogging often. So it has been a very long time since I blogged (as you gathered), and during this blank moment I’ve logged thousands of kilometres, been on countless busses and airplanes and visited (or revisited) four countries. My passport is half full and it hasn’t even been a year, something a middle class backpacker thinks is slightly progressive or at least gloatable (if that is a word).

So the biggest change is that I now formally live in the city of Tarapoto, in the upper Amazon region of Peru (google it). It’s hot and humid (average yearly high is 31 degrees), just like Tacna in the summer with the exception of having nicer people, green flora 360 degrees and attractive ladies with little on. One could say I live in paradise, but the cold showers (mainly in the morning) just do not cut it for me. My current position has me working in a local NGO called IDPA (Instituto para el Desarrollo y la Paz Amazónica) or in English “Amazonian Institution for Development and Peace” where I mainly analyse the production process of cacao in Chazuta. My research and interest in cacao (Theobroma cacao) has certainly encouraged me to look into this position.  I had been given a choice between my current position and a position working as an advisor in water management with the Municipality of Végueta and the local JAS (mainly with process analysis and training). The idea of working within or even with public institutions again kind of withered away in Tacna (lessons learnt) besides, the thought of working with the president of the socialist party in Peru sounds interesting, yes, my boss is also the president of the socialist party, weird hey?

After my first day in Tarapoto almost a month ago now, I knew that this would be my new home, and alas I officially moved in my new apartment barely a 15 minute walk from the center yesterday. I have been staying in Lima, Guatemala and El Salvador the last month, and always in a hotel, so it is really nice to finally sleep in “my own” bed. Today has mainly consisted of recovering from last night’s drinking with the locals and buying essentials for my new place, mainly loud speakers and a party sized table. Funny enough from 10 months ago I transformed from a tie and suit to a wife beater and sandals, can’t say I look like corporate Calgary but it’s certainly easier to strip down then to roast in the humid heat.  Tomorrow I’ll be back at work, probably motorcycling down to Chazuta or one of our pilot sites nearby and officially starting my work.

The Amazon is certainly an interesting place and I am excited to get to work, and start a fitness regime. In the mean time, I have some things to buy and some friends to call up.

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Better Late than Never, or…?

Frustration and boredom have more or less consumed my time in the last 5 days, but I rather not write about that, instead I shall focus on my delayed flight from Houston to Lima up till the beginning of perpetual boredom. So I managed to sleep some 4 hours on my 8 hour flight, phasing in and out of consciousness and fully waking for supper, I managed to keep my eyes open until I finally landed in Lima at around 12:00 at night, I was exhausted and it took about 25 minutes until I could get my backpack from that luggage place, with the rolly things, I’m not sure what it is called. Either way, Julio my cabby was waiting patiently for me and ready to take me to my hotel room in Miraflores called Airport Inn on Av. Miguel Grau , 191. There was a nice coincidence in all this; I had actually stayed at the Airport Inn 5 years prior on my first visit to Peru! By the time I had put my bag in my room it was about 2 am, and I was done, I passed out and woke early to meet up with Isabel, my WUSC guide in Lima. We met about 9 AM outside the hotel room and she took me to the WUSC office where I met the rest of the staff including Juan the Uniterra Program Officer for Peru. He basically gave me a break down of Uniterra and WUSC in Lima, all the nity gritty stuff was meant for the next day when another group of workers, relatively close to Lima where coming to the head office. Juan had told me that they came from Huacho, a small city some 150 KM north of Lima. He gave me their names, and to my surprise, but albeit an anticipated one, I had already known one of them (a she), pretty well actually, but 6 months earlier, our last encounter was, well not left on the best of terms, to put if softly. I actually did wonder how awkward it was going to be, but thought that it couldn’t have been otherwise, could it? That was a rhetorical question, just an FYI.

Either way I had left the WUSC office late, and when I had arrived at the hotel I decided to upload the last entry of this blog. After which I decided to go out and buy a large bottle of beer, to drink casually as I read the news off course. The Cusqueña had left a sweet and tender aftertaste, but I don’t recall much after that, I had probably slept abruptly, mind you, it was 3 AM in Lima, but 1 AM in the YYC. I had woken up a bit nervous because of my potentially awkward day, maybe that’s why I slept so badly? Arriving at the WUSC office was kind of funny actually, I was informed, drum roll please… that my visa had finally come in!! The joke: It was sitting nicely at the Peruvian embassy in Vancouver! So the awkward moment began 2 hours later as I was sitting in the meeting room, it was relatively quite when I suddenly heard a lot of commotion outside the room, and hearing a fairly unforgettable laugh; it was time, she had arrived. So the group began walking in the room and then we shook hands, it was interesting… actually it was a half ass, partial eye contact kind of deal. You know I don’t ever recall ever shaking hands with her, ever, sometimes first handshakes are just plain awkward! But as the day went on, and after a long ass meeting we started warming up to each other, our last encounter I made a complete jackass off myself, pfft, don’t judge, it happens to the best of us, but more on that later. So in the meeting we discussed our “Work Plan”, well not mine but the others, (I still haven’t discussed this aspect of my job with my counterpart here in Tacna, which is part of my current eye twitch) and it was interesting Juan is a very good animator and educator, a credit to WUSC.

So it’s time for lunch, I’m the only one in a suit, tie, vest and shiny black shoes. In other words I am pretty pimp. So the previous day I had talk to Movistar (Telefonica) representative about getting a monthly data plan for 95 S, so a mere 35 CND$, he said that it would be super easy to do; so naturally I was ready to take out the cash. Sure enough and this always ALWAYS happens to me on every trip, my brand new Scotia Bank account that I got specifically because it supposed to work flawlessly in Peru was blocked! So what’s next, oh yes my credit card, oh what’s that, BLOCKED! We can now recall the old age axiom that “anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. Oh Murphy, you done it again, at least it happened then and not later. So now I have no choice but to use my Americano dollars, which was supposed to be for emergency, well for unknown improbable FUTURE events, not my second day, jajaja. Regardless I managed to secure lunch with the pennies I had in my pocket, and bought me tonnes of chicken and Flan! We all ate lunch as a group and I listen attentively as the group discussed internal/external problems with working with each other, the community and their Peruvian counterparts. I should add that the workers from Huacho are 2 females, and one male the latter a local from Trujillo. So after more chatting, and me being on the phone with Scotia bank, oh yes and Fido, I had to migrate my monthly plan to prepaid (so I could keep my number), oh yes I am not on contract so this was fairly easy to do, after which it was time to go back to the hotel.

Here’s another fun coincidence, you ready? Carlos, the local worker originally from Trujillo decided to go back home, hoping on some 11 hour bus ride, or something ridiculously close to that. So it was just me and the ladies, who by the way had, or should I say were supposed to be in a different hotels then I. Turns out, rather comedic that there was no room in their hotel, but room in mine. Its gets funnier, so as we were getting them all settled in their hotel room, I realized that they were my neighbours, lucky room 204. It appeared that destiny thought that our friendship was wasted in a stupid discourse 6 months earlier. So they invited me to join them for dinner and it was a soccer night (Chile got beat by Suarez (Uruguay) 4-0), won’t forget that night. So the next day we had to wake up early to go on a hike with Juan, so we left early and slept rather promptly. There is nothing worse than waking up early knowing that you’ll be walking up a 2800 mountain side. To the point, it was an incredible hike we saw a nice waterfall, and by the time we were back down, our friendship had been rekindled. That night we met up with other workers who worked in Lima and danced the night away. I’m just happy that I got my friend back, so as a rule of thumb, if two friends need to make up, stuff them together for 48 hours, they will either kill each other or remember why they were friends in the first place. The next day I had to fly to Tacna, once again I was packing my bags. In retrospect I couldn’t have had a better time in Lima and I was excited to what was to come.

I could sit here and write about the last 6 days that I have been in Tacna, but I don’t have anything positive or exciting to say. Well actually, on Wednesday I got access to my bankcard again, so I am relieved. Ill regurgitate the last days on Monday, after I get back from Chile!! :D But yes better late than never.


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The Way of Nenemi

Currently I find myself sitting and waiting at the Houston International Airport for my flight onto Lima, boarding at 2:25 PM. Since there is no free Wi-Fi, there is a big chance that I will be in my Lima hotel uploading this blog. So I’ll track back to the last entry and a go tad earlier as I left something out by accident. To my shock on October 5th, I had received a formal letter officially accepting me into the program, after a selection committee declared my candidature as a ‘good to go’. I’ll have to admit, my teeth did grind when I received the email. You see at that moment I had imagined getting a rejection letter instead, and the fact that I turned down a great job opportunity a month earlier, I felt like I had in one way or another been walking rather blindly. Moreover, I was rather verbal about my views; a tad passionate in fact, especially when they clashed with those of the Uniterra/CFSI training. I did ponder if I would have been better behaved having known that I was being evaluated. Clearly I did something right, but it was probably just a formality. Now here is what I still had to do accomplish:

  1. Get my ‘official’ visa
  2. Sign my contract
  3. Get reimbursed (Montreal)
  4. Ticket to from YYC to LIM

I will start with the latter, as it is the easiest one to explain. So from what I understood, and mind you I am new to this, when food is not provided during Federal government training (in this case CIDA) there is a “per diem” offered instead. It appeared that $ 30.00 was the default per diem for dinner. We received a reimbursement form, which covered, food, board, transportation and babysitting.  Board was provided, food was partially provided (breakfast/lunch), I don’t have children, so babysitting was not required and then there was transportation. The transportation in this case was local transportation, airport to hotel, hotel to airport and any miscellaneous travel in between. I basically had to scan my STM metro/bus receipts (the ones that survived) for transportation costs and send the originals to WUSC. Dinner was provided via the per diem of 30 dollars a day for 5 days, so a nice $150.00. I also sent my receipts for my shots and medical exam; clearly things were looking up on this end. The form was supposed to be sent at the latest 2 weeks later, admittedly I went over this deadline by some 3 or 4 days. Either way it was eventually sent via Canada Post priority mail, and I am sure that it arrived at its location some 2 days later.

The major reason why I rushed the whole passport application was directly attributed to my need of that Peruvian visa, which seemed to be a first requirement prior to my entry in Lima. Curiously enough one of my father’s co-workers, a Peruvian national told him that the Peruvian consulate in Calgary was closed. Clearly one could project troubles ahead. If the latter was true, it would mean that I would have to fly to Vancouver (or bus it), pick up my visa and fly back home. Comically, its November 9th, I’m barely 7 hours away and I don’t actually have that visa. Reflection time eventually dictated that I did not have to rush to get my new passport, nor spend all that money to rush everything else. Alas not all was lost, apparently these circumstances are not unique, in fact these occurrences happen quite often, which means that pulling all my hair off was also avoidable. Juan Escate my main contact in Lima, a very calm and welcoming individual had a solution for me. On October 24th I received a letter addressed to the “Dirección General de Migraciones Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores del Perú” a in lieu of my visa, a mouth full hey? Now, Juan did give me a disclosure worded as “it should work”, this implying that it may not work, similar to my passport copy and police report during the police report incident. The kicker to this was having the ability to acquire a tourist visa for at least three months, if possible and just in case I have bigger issues with my official visa. Suffice to say I never got my visa, the next thing I did need was to sign my contract.

So I had woken up late on November 1st, which was no doubt attributed to my gluttonous response to all the Halloween candy that was not given away to the children. This caused a sense, nay a full blown deprivation of energy. So as per usual, still snuggled in bed I decided to check my email, via my gmail app on my cell and to my surprise there it was, a digital copy of my contract! I quickly got out of bed, had a sausage, 2 eggs, some coffee, door bell rings but I didn’t bother to answer (will haunt me later, well kind off) and again probably a pot latter I decided to print out the contract, read it thoroughly (I forgot what I read anyways) and signed it. Once signed, it needed to be scanned and sent back. The email instructed me that a hard copy was going to come in a couple of days. So, I pondered, who rang that door bell? So I accidentally discovered this when I was about to do an errand, and there it was hanging from the door knob, a Purolator notice. As it turns out, the package dropped was addressed to me BUT now I had to go a billion miles (13 KM) away to go and pick it up, clearly I wasn’t going to go pick it up anytime soon. Either way the next day had come, and as I was making dinner, perhaps a tad early, say noon-ish the door bell rang, so in order to avoid further inconveniences I decided to answer the door, alas it was the Purolator man, and he had a package for me! I joked and made a sarcastic comment like “oh, and I thought I had to go pick it up”, and the Purolman said to me, “oh yeah… that package… you still have to pick up”, and yes with those pauses, serves me right. So I opened up the package and it turned out to be the physical copy of the contract. Sweet I thought, but the other package?

Given this mystery it seemed reasonable to go and actually check. So that night I went to pick up the package, 10 minutes of waiting and I was off. Excited to see what was in the package, I discovered my Life Insurance plan and a reimbursement check of a handsome $442.75, which I guess made up for all my spending the two weeks prior. Off course now that I am doing online banking and I noticed that Capital One did not remove the taxi charge from “Diamond Taxi”, it wasn’t $28.00 it was actually $24.00, but still they assured me that I did not have to pay, so now, I look at them with suspicious eyes and clutch my wallet ever so tightly. Either way I had one more thing missing, my actual e-Ticket, once again, and perhaps cutting it close, in the morning of November 8th, once again also still cuddled in my bed I got an email with, oh yes, with my e-ticket. Looks like I was all set, and ready to go.  So back to the time I started typing this entry, lots has happened since I was waiting at the Houston airport, currently I find myself on a plane, with a child, who won’t stop kicking him. To top it off though, they found “biological material” in the storage area, from “San Francisco” and we had to roll back to the airport and wait. God forbid its anthrax and this is my last entry! (which it wasn’t since I just updated my blog)

Nenemi: A classical Nahuatl term meaning “to go about, go along, travel; walk; run”.

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Recovering from my Montreal experience is an entirely different and more motivated effort. I still needed that official Visa, still needed to get my medical check, get all my vaccinations and finally sign the contract. Mind you there was extreme pressure to get all my paper work 2 weeks prior to my scheduled take off date of October 28th, thus I was in a bit of a rush. What had to be done?:

  1. Passport
  2. Vaccines
  3. Scotia Bank Account
  4. Medical Exam

Sounds simple right? No… It actually was not, after my wallet and passport was stolen getting my passport before or on October 14th would prove to be, well what I thought a challenge. There is a sort of blacklist Passport Canada issues to people who “loose” their passports in however fashion. I was, to my disappointment now on that list. This I should note will not affect getting a replacement, but does add to the cost indirectly. Please note that I had also lost all my IDs and my passport copy/police report was insufficient evidence of who I actually was. Clearly I needed to get ID first. It turns out this wasn’t too difficult. I am notorious of never carrying government issued ID on multiple occasions, but have for some weird reason and always coincidently carry my Tax return stub and Social Insurance Number. I would like to point out that I was not born in Canada so access to birth certificates as such would prove extremely inconvenient to acquire. Luckily I still had my Canadian citizen card that I got in 1992, which by the way looks nothing like me. Please note that in order to get your new passport you have to do the following:

  1. Report the Passport lost or stolen to Passport Canada at 1-800-567-6868
  2. Report the Passport lost or stolen to The Police
  3. Complete the Statutory Declaration concerning a lost, stolen, damaged, destroyed or inaccessible Canadian passport (Form PPTC 203)
  4. Complete the Adult General Passport Application ( PPTC 153)*

*Not the Simplified Renewal Form (PPTC 054), if you lost your original passport in one way or another, you have to start from scratch. It sucks, but it is how it is.

My Monday, October 3rd consisted of the following getting my passport photos taken, getting my Alberta issued ID and finally apply for my passport. Now I have the tendency of always going to the same places, first out of convenience and secondly out of habit. I always, always go to the same photo place to take my passport or visa photos. My place of choice is Speed Photos Ltd. which is conveniently downtown, where I usually lurk, it takes 10 – 15 minutes, so the amount of time it takes me to drink my Timmy’s XL DD. I also love the photographer he is this awesome older gentleman who is super friendly, makes you feel like you’re at home. Out of convenience I then walked to The Licensing Company about two blocks away at the Bow Valley Square building. After waiting in line some 15 minutes I was served. The lady asked me for Government photo issued ID, I found this rather redundant as I was there precisely for that reason. I had had both my Citizenship card and my SIN card and both had my full last name. She proceeds to ask me for proof of my current address, luckily I had been in this case before and had brought a tax stub with me, you can use either a “Notice of Assessment” or “The GST/HST Credit” stub; both are issued by Canada Revenue Agency, and somehow valid proof. Prior to my photos and paying I asked the lady where I could get a commissioner of oaths to sign my Statutory declaration form, as the government needs to know that it was really me who was reporting and buying a new passport, makes you wonder the whole purpose of having a Canadian Citizenship card and two pieces of government issued photo ID. She said, with a smile “we have one in house”, perfect, convenient and relatively cheap I thought. After paying, having my photo taken and waiting for the commissioner to put her signature on my declaration, I got an “Application for an Alberta Identification Card Receipt”, basically a rectangle sheet of paper. I was stunned and asked her where my ID was, she said that I’d get it in the mail in 10 business days. Before freaking out, mind you I needed photo ID to get my passport, she was like oh you can use the Receipt in lieu of the actually ID card. What a relief I thought so I was off to the Passport Canada office in the Harry Hays Building (now currently in the first floor).

After waiting in line for 10 minutes I was at the counter handing in all my paper work. I decided not to get the 48 page passport as I would normally and opted for the typical 24 pages, being 5 dollars cheaper. I had explained my situation to the Passport Canada agent and she said that the passport would be ready by October 11th, clearly it seemed that I had to wait, after laughing my frustrations away about my work visa she said this “look, I can do this for you”, she starts to scribble on the application, once done she responded “come by this Friday at noon, your passport will be ready, does this help?”, off course at this point I am ecstatic barely a week into passportlessness and I should have it before my deadline. So I was like “YES!”, while still maintaining a sense of cool and calm. Clearly luck was on my side that week! Attached are my incurred costs, just in case you find yourself in a similar situation:

  • Passport Photos $8.99
  • Commissioner of Oaths $20.00 (Price varies)
  • Operator Licence Application $45.45
  • Canadian Passport (24 Pages) $87.00
  • Express Service $30.00

Sadly I had wasted some $191.44 on my mission to get my passport, how quaint. But the costs didn’t stop here, no sir. The next step was to have multiple injections on my arms, yes, vaccines. If you’re in Calgary I suggest going to the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre – Travel Health Services, they were absolutely wonderful people, actually a great memory given the poking (not the good kind) circumstances. I was only supposed to get my Hepatitis A&B plus the Typhoid, BUT my nurse decided to conveniently remind me how under protected I was so I got the following:

  • Hepatitis A (Avaxim)
  • Typhoid (Vivotif)
  • Yellow Fever (YF-VAX)
  • Tetanus/Diptheria
  • Measles /Rubella (MMRII)
  • Flu

“We” decided to opt out the Hepatitis B shot due to my low risk in acquiring it, and because I am very frugal. In all my travels I had never taken shots for anything, in fact the only thing I ever carried was what I call the “wonder drug” which is normally called Imodium. I love Imodium, especially in Latin America and due to their delicious street food! What was bad about the time I got the shots was that I was starting to feel sick earlier in the day, my throat hurt and my head was throbbing, great I thought. My nurse told me that I may react to the live vaccines, like Measles and Typhoid (I think). Yellow Fever is most definitely not required where I will be or even plan to be. BUT as my clever nurse mentioned that when I go to Guatemala for our water and sanitation project (assist2develop.org) that customs will need to see my Yellow Fever certificate, as Guatemala is very anal about Yellow Fever cotangents. Either way after like 5 seconds of pinches and me trying to photograph the whole thing I had to pay the bill. Tetanus, Measles and the Flu are free, Yes! Hepatitis A, Typhoid and Yellow Fever are not, No! Each costing $74.00, $68.00 and $101.00 respectively, albeit the receipt never added up to that. Oh well, guess luck was on my side.

After the vaccinations and due to convenience and affordability of transactions I finally abandoned my decade long friendship with Presidents Choice Financial and opted for Scotia Bank, and the big perks: I get a scene card, with 1000 points, that is a free movie (Puss and Boots anyone?) and free transactions from Scotia Banks in Peru, that’s right, no more stupid 5-8 dollar fees for taking out cash abroad or using my debit card. Albeit I don’t know how much opportunity I’ll have using the latter. I had asked my Scotia Bank representative Jen if she knew where I could get a medical exam. You see my family doctor, well I don’t ever go to the doctor so after 10 years they discarded my records, plus he only books a month in advance, clearly if I ever get deadly ill, my doctor is not an option. So Jen recommended Medisys, only a comfortable 2 blocks away. When I arrived they told me that they usually deal with corporate packages (which I was no longer corporate anything), after I told them my situation the nice lady told me to wait for a bit as she went to speak to a doctor. She comes back and says “yes, yes we can do this for you”, so luck was still on my side, perhaps life was paying me back for the week in Montreal? Probably not since I had to cough up the money from the skies in order to pay for all these costs. Regardless I made the appointment for the following Monday and was still waiting on that passport. The following days I felt like I was on my death bed, it hurt to walk, talk and even think, I had caught some sort of flu, or the Typhoid oral vaccine was getting to me.

Friday decides to come along and after a lovely tea and biscuit break with a special person I headed to the Passport Canada office, and alas I had my brand new passport! My excitement kind off died when I saw this on Page 5 on my passport as an “observation”:


A definite confirmation of my blacklistedness at Passport Canada. Once the weekend ended and after I had sent scans of all my paper work, it was time to go to Medisys for that Medical Exam. I told the doctor that I needed some form signed to let WUSC and CECI know that I was fit to travel to Peru for at least a year. After some deep breaths, heart thumping and a couple of tickles on my liver and kidneys I was good to go. $131.25 and 15 minutes worth of tickling later I was done, who was the clear winner here? I don’t know. I definitely recommend this place though for its convenient, fast and also really people oriented personnel. No offence to my family doctor. Lessons of that week were: Don’t loose your wallet, your passport or it will cost a pretty penny, always be nice and even though everything is expensive it always seems to be conveniently close (geographically) to one another and always answer no thank you at least three times!

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Uniterra and CFSI Training (Montreal)

It has come to my attention that I could potentially be a poor blogger, but to defend myself I had a rough couple of weeks. So firstly I will refer to my unfortunate encounter with a dodgy individual at a dance bar then and more importantly describe my Pre-departure and Intercultural training with CECI/WUSC and CFSI.

Clearly I was excited to attend my training in Montreal, which to date is my favorite Canadian city. So I planned to come a few days earlier to party and enjoy the wonders of Montreal. My itinerary was as follows: Arrive in Montreal (YUL) at 6:00 PM, get on the 747, meet Francisco at Rue Guy some 45 minutes later, get some food, in this case some butter chicken and see where the night takes us. Training would start at 8:00 AM sharp the following Monday and end at 4:30 PM sharp the upcoming Friday. So back for Friday the 23rd, after downing some beers and playing some FIFA 2006 we decided it was time to shower, dress up and moose our hair back, and time for the occasional social gathering and hopeful mingle with some of Montreal’s most attractive woman. We attended a local bar called Maison de liqueur, or some equally dreaded sounding name, it was, well, let’s just say that I was probably 12 years older than the average child in the bar, thus it was time to move on forward. After passing by, and seeing an odd French rock band, we arrived at a local pub with the great beats and voices of Tupac, Bone Thugz and the other greats. Ordering unnecessarily large beers we began to embrace the beats and dance. After some time we experience intense sweating and decided to place our jackets in a couch directly in front of us, after some time the dodgiest 40+ year old man sat on them, Torres (Francisco) instinctively removed the jackets from the couch. Sure enough it was in this instance that my wallet went astray. But I didn’t realize this until I went to pay for our next set of beers. It happens all so quickly. After 8 or so minutes of bitching we were challenged to a game of foozball, we off course claimed multiple victories. After sometime it was time to call it a night, I decided that I should cancel my credit card, alas the culprit had already charged 28 dollars on a cab ride, and that my friends is how I lost my wallet, more on the consequences of the theft later.

So it’s late Sunday and I had a wonderful chit chat with my roommate Rick, who has a rather fatherly appeal and a great poker face, what he really thought when I made outlandish remarks is beyond my comprehension. The next day I had woken up around 6:30 AM, showered and started introducing myself to my fellow Uniterra colleagues. We had a wonderful chat during breakfast and I met the veteran Volunteer Cooperant Rémi, whom had been involved in various parts of Africa including the Congo and Benin and had a foundational role in the Quebec without borders program. He led us to the training center, some 15-20 minutes away. There was a brief introduction, a basic ball game describing who we are and what out passions where. Frankly I am not particularly good at responding questions of the sorts unless I have been given some time to think and write it all down. Regardless our Pre-departure training lasted two days and it was fairly useful for networking, clearing some definition based problems. About four people (including those from CFSI training) were headed to Bolivia, in or near La Paz and of those four only one was from Uniterra. This particular person was of interest, Amal was able to speak 5 different languages, was very articulate, fairly knowledgeable and quick to correct. She definitely exceeded my expectations of what a Volunteer Cooperant should be and it was a sort of reassurance of the possible successes of our mandate. Two were headed to Ghana, Rick already mention, was one of them and another. Destination Malawi was assigned to Lesley, another wonderfully articulate character with a sharp mind, and a very calm personality. I could yap more about them, but just trust me on their capacity, will and mental preparedness.

The last three days was the Pre-departure Course in Intercultural Effectiveness provided by Centre for Intercultural Learning (CIL), Canadian Foreign Service Institute (herein called CFSI training). On this date we were introduced to some new people, from different organizations. But all were there taking the mandatory CFSI training for any CIDA funded programs/projects. Jas was the facilitator of this course, she, being intuitive and reasonable was a perfect choice and got the job done. My favourite activity was a game that involved breaking up into groups of two or three, each group given a deck of cards and without the different group’s knowledge, a different instruction set per group! This clever and sinister ploy was enhanced when the instructions could only be read for 30 seconds and then handed back to the facilitator. Talking or writing was forbidden within the group, but other forms of communication could be used clarify interpretations of the rules. The “winner” or “loser” (instruction dependent) of each group would then shift to a “lower” table, whatever that meant. They would start to play, and the confusion would begin, as each person knew different rules from their respective tables. So what ended up happening was that one person from the table, either the new or old would instruct the other(s) in their group the rules, without talking. Interpersonal problems arose when one person(s) refused (and assuming they understood the person’s communication method) the “new” rules dictated to them. Different rules and poor communication was an analogy and clear emphasize of how different culture that interact with one another have different ways of seeing and doing things. Very clever game indeed.

Either way I’ll stop the training talk here. On the last day, in the morning when I started packing I noticed that I could not find my passport! Alas, could I have left it in my pocket that night my wallet got stolen? I sure think so. I had no ID, no passport how was I supposed to return to Calgary (YYC) that day? Well since training was a prerequisite for my leaving, I couldn’t skip, thus I had to solve my problem after training. So it was about 4:15 PM (or so) when the training ended, and I had to do two things:

  1. Report my lost (or stolen) wallet and passport
  2. And somehow get on that Westjet flight back to the YYC without ID.

I did have an advantage that wouldn’t normally present itself, the weeks prior to the training I had sent a scanned copy of my passport to the CECI office via email, for the Peruvian work visa. So this was the first piece of the puzzle. I had finally tracked down my recruiter Cecilia, some 15 – 20 minutes later; she had saved my email and provided a blow up printout. My next step was to find a Police station. This is where my second advantage by the name of Rick presented itself. Using his GPS (iPhone) and his pseudo French skills we managed to finally allocate one. After an annoying description and conversation with a Montreal police office, and some 30 minutes later I had got my report! The police officer said “it may not work”, great I thought. Now the original plan was to take the 747 bus back to the airport, but Id would have had to catch it DT Montreal during rush hour, so the odds of me catching that flight were unlikely. So Rick (bless his fatherly soul) becomes my third advantage, as a very practical man he suggested that we cab it, I am known for my frugalness so the thought never came to my mind, and the frugalness came out when I said that it was way too expensive. And he pointed out quite eloquently that it will be reimbursed as a travel cost, so once again using his phone and French skills he called a cab, it was about 5:15 PM and my flight was at 6:30 PM, an hour to go and no cab.

Minutes later a cabi arrived, he was francophone only so it was rather awkward not able to speak to him. Luckily it was still Rick and me, roomies for a week and sadly our last hour together, and even after dozens of beers and hundreds of hours (maybe not hundreds) of conversation we still had a lot to talk about. Traffic was moving, albeit not as bad as Calgary traffic would have been for that day, or so it seemed to me at the time. This was not a prelude to a horrible ending; in fact we had arrived at roughly 4:48 PM, there was still time! As I was about to go in the line, I was stopped by a Westjet employee, the ones that direct you to lines, and I said, “I may have a problem”. She looked puzzled, and then I showed her my passport printout and told her that all my stuff had been stolen. She said, and not really to my surprise, but still not what I wanted to hear “you can’t board the plane”. The magical contracted words of “can and not”. Then I took out my police check, and she looked trouble, another employee checked to see what the commotion was about, she took me to the side and suggested that it was in fact possible now. She took me to the front, since I had no carryon bags, I had enough time to run through security, and grab a Second Cup coffee, get on my plane and make it home.

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What is this all about?

Originally I had planned to circumvent the world and document each day or event via this webpage. Due to vital career moves/changes, personal life/habits and academic pursuits, this never became a reality. Working in the corporate and booming city of Calgary took ample effort and it eventually ate away at the remnants of the joys that I had in traveling, all for the pursuit of money and career related success.

My recent involvement in the developing world and interest in the UN Millennium Development Goals, UN Global Compact, CAWST and sustainable access to clean water and sanitation woke me up and reconnected me with my passion to travel and to foster change for our and future generations. Recently I accepted a position with EPS Tacna S.A. in Peru via Uniterra’s Volunteer Cooperant program and WUSC’s Strengthening Municipal Capacity in Water and Sanitation Services program as an of Advisor for Sanitation Education. My immediate efforts as of now are to commit to all the paper work for my “administration file”, get my official visa and get all those vaccinations.

The intent of this blog is to inform, inspire and educate likeminded individuals who are curious about what they can do, what options are out there or simply want to contribute in a positive way in our global society. According to the UNICEF, child mortality due to the lack of safe water and sanitation causes some 4500 children to die per day, that’s 1.64 million a year, that more than the population of Calgary! Is it sensible that the first world should just sit by and let that happen? I say no. During my field research in Central America, Elba Perez a member of the indigenous woman’s right group of ANIS told me this:

As students of the first world with seemingly infinite resources you are responsible not only as an academics, not only as future leaders but as conscience human beings to seek truth and change not only for your selves or your academic institutions but also for those who simply cannot for themselves

Due to the advent of the internet, cellular phones and ease of travel the world has become a very small place and it has given me the drive to document this phase of my life, I hope that you can gather a bit of inspiration, maybe you’ll have that urge to walk out of your corporate job and do something out of the ordinary.

So take a step in the right direction, make a change and build a legacy!

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