Wine and cheese – it’s better when it’s old, right?

I just had a peculiar feeling. It’s not the first time I’ve been back to campus since graduating. In fact, I was just there a few months ago, but as I was approaching the Endowment Lands this evening, the oddest sensation crept up inside me.  I felt anxiety.

Donning my UBC sweatshirt by pure coincidence, I was doing my good deed of the year and assisting my not-so-little-anymore cousin jump his car. I was still irked by this feeling and I couldn’t shake it as we were heading to the pub for a catch up. On our way, I had the realization that it had been 10 years since I’d purchased this very sweatshirt, and as if I was walking the halls of my old high school, all those strange inner conflicts and insecurities found their way into my brain.

me

University was a wonderful and horrible time for me. I spent my first year hung up on a guy that wasn’t really that into me mostly because I didn’t know how to play the game and therefore played it all wrong (hashtag facepalm). The cement walls of my dorm didn’t help and the pressure of school/pressure of partying dichotomy often plagued my sub-conscious. Instead of gaining the Freshman 15, I lost it. Suddenly, I went from being the moderately pudgy girl to some how remarkable skinny (I have a little frame!), but had no idea how to handle it. I still saw myself as that pudgy girl and bonded with another girl who was in the same boat. She ended up being my bestie for three years and in the fourth year she broke my platonic heart and I now only refer to her using curse words. But together we waded through the awkward waters, making and breaking friends along the way. A fantastic team, I’d say! And after four years, I escaped the confines of studying and realized the depression I had been living in for that time. How much I had held back. How many experiences I missed out on because I was too busy being scared. And how this strange cloud had hovered over me that I didn’t know existed.

But today, as I left campus I took a moment to reflect and I’ve come to the conclusion that I really like who I’ve become over these last 10 years. I’ve gained all that lovely weight back, but I have never had more compliments on how I look than right now. Not even when I was a skinny minny.  I’m confident and every now and again I like doing things that scare me a little.

NYESometimes I pick up French hitch hikers, have dinner with strangers, drive across a massive island on my own, take shoddy vans across a desert, walk through tiger country, give my passport to a stranger, eat street meat (not recommended), eat an animal I’ve pet, drink a bottle of wine and plan one of my dearest friend’s wedding, or I walk into a pub of university kids and not feel bad about myself. It’s a great feeling to realize I’ve come that far. I hear it gets better with age and I’m kind of stoked on that idea!

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I rebut! Vancouver women are not the pickiest in Canada!

If you guys didn’t catch it, I was a perturbed by the commentary surrounding Vancouver being the pickiest women in the country. I’m hardly an authority, but as a single woman, I think it’s only fair for me to have an opinion. So I responded. Some people have decided that I must be fat and insecure. Others thing I don’t smoke enough pot. Click the link above and let me know what you think.

Voter apathay

Some days I become overwhelmed with inspiration. Today is one of those days. Having spent the last 6 months in a country that fully believes in compulsory voting, I having been finding it difficult to meet people who are sufficiently inspired by politics.  They are required to care.  Some make the effort, become educated, and go to the polls. But some I have met commit the age-old folly of voting the way their parents do as they know no better, or worse, they care no less.

Today I watched a film about the 2008 Presidential elections in Ghana and so much of it reminded me of Timor Leste.  The pressure, however, was so much greater in Ghana to have a successful election, not just for the people, but for the continent of Africa as a whole.  The risk of being characterised as Kenya or Zimbabwe was far too great.  But beyond the actual process, a few concepts struck me.  A journalist was being interviewed and he raised the question that if a country votes for one party in an election and votes for another in the next, is there really any value in democracy if the government changes and the country still struggles in poverty?

Is there value in democracy if going to the ballot box does not yield results?  If society is not growing or progressing, what is the value of government?  What IS the role of government in that case, if democracy does not result in accountability? Is voting not just another exercise to create a facade of legitimacy?  Is the institution of government not just another facet of capitalism producing benefits only for itself and those who participate in “government?”  If politicians don’t respect the rule of law, why is a population expected to do so and at what point do you call that society anarchy?

I have no answers for these questions, but I will continue to explore them.  One thing I know for certain is that democracy is something we privileged take for granted.  We were lucky enough to come from societies that built legitimacy into the system and had leaders in the early days who respected the rule of law.  Our governments may be flawed, but we have access to food, health care, and education.  Ghana hasn’t fared so well, nor has Timor Leste.

Hope.

I’ve been thinking about hope a lot lately.  It’s not a concept I fully understand.  For me, hope tends to be something I mostly associate with the opposite sex. Hoping for something or someone.  Sometimes it’s even the hope for something I cannot have like being able to wake up to Johnny Depp from Chocolat bringing me breakfast in bed.  One can hope right??

Often we cling to hope only because our realities are so different.  But I feel like my hopes vary so drastically from the hopes of most.  My hopes often stem from desires, but for others, hope is vision.  What they hope for is not something they don’t have because of their limitations, but in spite of them.  What a strange concept.  As a realist, hope seems absolutely ridiculous to me.  It is not tangible and may never even become a reality.  And yet we all find ourselves hoping.  I hope one day to meet someone who will love me and grow old with me. I suspect my parents have a similar hope, but more along the lines of securing my well-being.  There is no evidence that this will actualize, but I still hope as not hoping makes me face the alternative of perma-spinsterhood and a home full of cats.

In Timor-Leste, hope is something that has actualized.  After 25 years of brutality and 400 years of colonization prior to that, the hope they held in their hearts, their hope for change and a new life came to be.  I know I sound like I’m romanticizing all of this, but despite my nervousness, I was completely overwhelmed by the people of Timor Leste and their tenacity.  There is an innate desire for growth and development right down to the smallest village.  There is respect for the democratic process, even if flaws are recognized.  In fact, they are encouraged to be acknowledged as to better the process. And even though the hope for independence has actualized, hope has not disappeared altogether.  There is hope for a stronger, healthier, Timor Leste.  These are realistic hopes.  Achievable hopes.  Perhaps that is something that we can hope for – the ability to grasp our surroundings and choose to make them better.  In the end, perhaps what we should be hoping for is vision.

E-day is the new D-day.

I’m not going to lie to you. Elections can be pretty boring. I mean, think about it. Many countries have a first past the post system which means 50%-1 votes are useless. Or worse, you live in the US where the electoral college dilutes your vote even further. So you get to the polls and there’s a line. Your employer has given you the legally allotted 3 hrs to vote but you’ve got dinner to make or it’s snowing or raining or you left for work late in the morning so you couldn’t avoid the evening rush at 645pm. All the candidates on the ballot suck and you drop your ballot in the box never to know what will come of it, and really who cares? I mean all the candidates say the same thing anyway and Lord knows they will be singing a different tune once they are in office. Why do we even waste our time?
Election day in Timor Leste is not too different from Election day in Canada except maybe people give a shit. In East Timor, I arrived at the polls at 6am, much like I do in Canada when working an election, but in Timor I was not the first. By 615am, there were about 25 people in line ready to vote. Polls don’t open until 7am. By 8 am 100 people had voted and there were easily another 100 in line. By noon, a majority of voters had cast their votes and election officials spent the next 3 hours finding ways to amuse themselves before the count. Timorese law dictates that the elderly can jump the queue but there was no need for queue jumping – it was the elderly who got there first. It was the elderly who survived 25 years of slaughter by Indonesian hands and hold this privilege dearly. And perhaps this is what makes our elections so boring and Timorese elections so exciting – in Canada voting is a right. In Timor, it is a privilege. Closing time is when things get really exciting. Suddenly, the calm and sparse voting area has accumulated a crowd. Transparency is something the electoral commission in Timor has taken seriously, so unlike Canada, anyone is welcome to watch the counting of the ballots. I had decided to watch the count happen at a station where 1124 ballots had been cast, which is an 80% voter turnout rate by the way. And when there are 13 candidates on an 14×11 sheet of paper, marked by jabbing a nail through your candidate of choice, and every single ballot must be read out whether valid, null, cancelled, or blank, and there is no electricity, the count can take a while. In my case, it took 6 hours. Needless to say, dinner was not something I got to enjoy on election day. But like I said before, election day in Timor is not too different than election day in Canada. In fact, election day in Timor was as free and fair as our elections, from what I could tell. People were happy to vote, understood the value, and were not afraid to do so as secrecy of the vote is something that is held in equally high regard. In Timor, elections are serious business. You don’t lose a majority of your middle aged population to waste it on laziness and indifference. 70% of the population is under 25 years age and at 80% voter turnout, there is no time to waste in building a great country. Timor Leste is making damn sure of that.