Lilypie Pregnancy tickers

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Some Odds and Ends

(from Miia, again)

Currently at the library doing some research for upcoming travels. Yesterday bought our plane tickets from Tokyo to London, England for November 18th. Hopefully we'll spend a few days in London with some friends there before heading to Accra, Ghana, probably around November 21st. Am doing bookings for that second flight presently.

Chris' brother recommended possibly taking a ferry from China to Japan since they tend to run much cheaper than flights. One way tickets from Shanghai to Osaka can start at $189 Canadian (for a cabin with 36 passengers) so we're definitely considering this option. A 48 hour boat trip from China to Japan seems so far away from this small Northern city that I can hardly imagine it. I am beside myself with eagerness.

Our departure from Finland is just a few weeks away. We're headed still once more to Jyvaskyla to visit with my little cousin and my pa, then probably down to Helsinki for one last hurrah with some cousins and my aunt. Then on the ferry to Estonia where Chris has some contacts. Then to old PYCCNA (the N should be the other way around) i.e. Russia (if my Russian spelling is correct...). I'm coming along with the Russian, which is great fun, and will hopefully have some key phrases under my belt before we cross the border.

The Russian and Mongolian visas are ready. Hoping the Chinese one doesn't get held up.

We've been doing our fair bit of research on Ghana and West Africa, including reading up on-line, meeting with some folks on this end, and communicating via email with Ghanaian friends and colleagues. Which brings me to an interesting point of life. A short story to illustrate my point: On Saturday, Chris and I met up with an 18-yr-old rotary student from New Brunswick, living just 20 or so km from our cottage. Robyn is awesome and bright, funny, gentle and obviously adventurous to throw herself into a foreign culture and language for a year. Still, there was something very 18 about her, much like I was when I went to Italy on an exchange at the same age. Before going to Italy in 1995, I didn't read up on its history, its political economy, key personages. I didn't try to understand it at all in a more systemic way. Mostly I was keen to try some pasta, meet some hot Italian guys, and see some beautiful art and architecture. I said to Chris that isn't it funny how we are preparing ourselves with information and more information before leaving. I think this is a good sign, as we are then more responsive, more appropriate in our dealings with people, and maybe making the small effort to learn about the people we are hoping to live among. Funny sometimes to get these chances to look at how we grow as we age.

Chris has read to me the last three chapters of the book he's writing. I love it. I know that as his wife I can easily be dismissed as biased, but I think I am captivated by witnessing the creative process, the way snippets of my conversations with Chris appear in the dialogues and the way whatever Chris is reading also appears there in new and innovative ways. So fascinating to watch it all come together between characters, in the storyline, in the true-invented universe of a novel.

Books I've read since I finished my degree in April (before which every free moment was spent on school reading and work):
- Race Against Time by Stephen Lewis
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley
- Great Soviet Short Stories by various (all post WWII)
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
- Jäniksen Vuosi by Arvo Paasilinna
- Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality by Dines, Jensen and Russo
- African Politics in Comparative Perspective by Goran Hyden
- When Your Voice Tastes Like Home: Immigrant Women Write edited by Prabjot Parmar and Nila Somaia-Carten
- Time Machine by H. G. Wells
- Close Range collection of short stories by Annie Proulx
- Disability by Cris Mazza

Currently reading (I go back and forth between them):
- Twilight of the Idols and the Anti-Christ by Nietzche
- The Dead Sea Scrolls in English by Goran Vermes
- Black Power by Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton

Sweet heavy rain all last night. The lake level actually went up. Chris and I curled up to watch Hollywood's remake of The Jackal and listened to the rain come down, drinking a glass of whiskey. I set out buckets to collect the rain and this morning washed up in the rain water. Better than anything L'Oreal could ever offer, I'm sure.

Chris' most recent idea for a movie is a couple lying in bed reading two different books and the movie would be a collection of snippets over their lifetimes as they look up from their books and make seemingly disjointed comments about what they're reading. This was us this morning as we lay in bed and I was reading Black Power and Chris was reading Destination Canada by Li, genuinely incredulous at the audacious predictions made by economists based on a seemingly infinite number of variables. We are quite the duo. I'd read half that same book about two years ago and Chris commented that the parts he would highlight have already been highlighted by the 2004 version of Miia. Sometimes I think we share the same brain.

As our time at the cottage is whittling away, I've made the decision to drink in the nature as much as possible. It's such a luxury to wake in the morning and smell the forest, wet with rain. Or to wake at 5am to have to pee and see the sun washing over the lake as it rises. Or to stand outside at night and marvel at the universe (literally) as I look up at the starts. Or to come out of the 95C sauna, steam rising off our bodies, and to stand naked in the lake and listen to the birds overhead. Chris said last night that he misses the city so. In some ways I do (and I probably would more if I thought we were staying at the cottage forever) but for now I am letting every moment with the fields and trees and lake and all of it just sink in to every pore. I drink of this cup knowing it may be some time yet until I have this unbridled, uninterrupted chance again.

Lastly, I'm afraid I may have come off as ungenerous about the Finns in some of my earlier posts. I think that though I grew up in a Finnish immigrant family in Canada, maybe I grew up more Canadian than I thought. There is also a sort of culture shock for me coming here, expectations and communications styles being different. In truth, we've had a lovely time and although it's always a bit cliche to characterize the Finns as reserved, I don't think it's entirely off the mark either. That of course doesn't mean that they are ungenerous or unkind or any other such thing. I think I had expected to easily fit in, speaking Finnish, having some history and contacts here, but the learning has had to come from myself too and how we communicate across cultures.

I find everyone has been so very good to us here but the Hyden book I read about politics and civil society in Africa did, in contrast, illustrate something of the character of Finns and other Scandinavians. Mostly that there is a firm belief in civil society and in anticipated roles and responsibilities, that everyone has their own part to play. I think this translates into public life and private life in similar ways where we don't necessarily cross boundaries that we do not see as our place to cross. That was a bit of what I was eluding to in my earlier post and I think it is also somewhat true for Canada. The problem of homelessness, for example, is relegated to politicians, civil servants, and non profits but is not the respomsibility of the private citizen. As such, we can end the day thinking that such issues are well in hand of those who are supposed to do something about them. This is, of course, only partially true since many people respond to the issues by making donations, for example, to my previous employer the United Way. In Finland, the culture of making donations barely exists and when we had those meetings in Jyvaskyla a couple of weeks ago, the concept of making tax deductions based on non-profit or charitable giving was completely foreign to them. Here individuals don't need to make charitable donations because it is the government's role to fund services. The role of the NGOs is comparatively small to Canada and doesn't receive nearly the same kind of support as the sector does in Canada. Of course the role of the NGO in Canada is again much smaller than it is in other places, like Nicaragua, where the government is either unwilling or unable to carry out social development and relies on foreign contributions to NGOs to do that same task. Anyway, what I'm getting at is that people are released from responsiblity when it is assumed that someone else will do it. This doesn't mean that Finns or Canadians are uncaring people, it just means that we don't need to become involved in the same way. That's all.

Thanks to everyone who emails, sends letters, posts comments on the blog. It's very good to stay in touch with you and I deeply appreciate all your care in reading our updates.

Much love to everyone out there and hope you're getting the most out of the last days of summer!

Monday, August 28, 2006


Some other quick fun facts about our first anniversary: we ate at a great Indian restaurant in Lahti, the smallish city I mentioned near Helsinki. It's the only Indian restaurant in town, called Indian Garden, and has food from across India on the menu, which makes for a nice variety to sample. The chef had been recruited from a five-star hotel and the proof was in the paneer. We were the only people in the place and we stayed for a couple hours. We walked by it the next day and it was again empty. I pity the burgeoning ethnic restaurant owner in smallish city Finland.

After the meal we took our giant bag of leftovers to the jazz festival and took in the closing act, which was not at all jazz. It was Egotrippi, which as Miia mentioned in a previous post is a popular Finnish pop\rock band. They are known for their philosophical lyrics. Miia translated one great song that they had about how you can so quickly bike into town and then waste an unbelievable amount of time in a record store, spend all your money, and not even feel guilty. This was a song written for me! They also have a song about how man has ruled long enough and maybe woman could do better. As a famous feminist Miia knows the name of pointed out, the opposite of patriarchy would not be matriarchy but fraternity and equality. What say you?

The Children of Two Nations

The night before the feast we ate two preliminary meals: pizza and quiche, and practiced sophisticated analysis of our personal lives. The conversation was lively, humourous, and easy. The crazy blonde kids paraded in marx brothers attire and showed off special gastral powers shared on the playground. These were easily overcome with a long sheet of paper and an idea; the two crouched to the ground as a bear and a robber and sketched the countryside merrily. It was no use because they were banished to tundra yet again, and when they came back they had the good graces to wait at the door until their muddy feet were carried away to be cleaned. The children at home don't know how easy they have it.

Helsinki Building, Photos from Suomenlinna, My Cousin Marjaana, and the big church in Helsinki

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Economist: In Praise of Finland

(From Miia)
Here's a little game we can all play. Here's the link to a quite recent article in The Economist entitled In Praise of Finland:

Now, despite my Finnish ancestry and how much I would love to hear Finland praised, let's all figure out where some of my objections to this article might fall.

(Hint: I did my undergraduate thesis on the problems of disposing of nuclear waste and have been working with newcomers to Canada when in Toronto...) There are, of course, some other issues as well.

On a side note, isn't it interesting that once upon a time in university, I had a professor who told us all to go out and get subscriptions to The Economist? After reading this article and having developed a brain of my own, one wonders why any professor would encourage consuming such pro-capital slant.

Enjoy! I'm off to dinner and sauna. Life is good and we're reading, writing, singing, living, loving.

OK, I can't leave the post just there. I'll include some more...

I got an email from my two beloved Juan Carloses - one from El Salvador and one from Nicaragua. When I was in Nica three years ago, JC El Sal came to visit me and I introduced him to JC Nica. They've remained in touch and now when JC El Sal was at a conference in Nica, he hooked up with JC Nica and they sent me a joint email. I loved it and loved hearing from them.

I answered and JC El Sal wrote back with another email saying that he had read the story of the Mayan people with JC Nica the night before and as they sat under the stars, they cried together. The prospect of two Finnish men sitting together one evening and reading a bit of history from hundreds of years ago and crying together is unfathomable. Somehow getting that note from JC El Sal really reminded me of a version of myself that was not so coolly logical and appropriately removed. There's a certain beauty in guiltless bearing of the soul, in shameless human contact, and in the ability to exprience joy and pain with equal magnitude. One of the greatest things of living in Nica was that you genuinely feel and the extremes are real. Although Finland, just as an example but is by no means the exception, is heralded as the crowning glory of social democracy and achievement, I wonder what we forsake in return. Not just Finns but Canadians too... and many others. We pay our taxes, the government fulfils some share of the responsibility, society and social infrastructure works and the rest of us are spared the need to think about it, or, worse, feel it. We become dull and intellectual. Not always an oxymoron.

What think ye all? Post comments. Talk about. Get angry, disagree, agree, laugh, cry, whatever.

Maybe I'm just feeling especially isolated on these fronts but I think there is something true here too. Are we really the Vulcans?

Much love (really) and big, big hugs and sloppy wet kisses and shameless adoration of you all!

A note on the President...

Tarja Kaarina HalonenTarja Kaarina Halonen was elected the 11th president of Finland and the country's first female head of state in 2000. Throughout her long and active career in public service, issues such as human rights, democracy, and promotion of equality and social justice have been central themes on her agenda. She has also played an active role in the international solidarity movement.

Born in 1943, Halonen holds a master of laws degree from the University of Helsinki. She began her professional life with the National Union of Finnish Students, and then as a lawyer with the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions in 1970. After joining the Social Democratic Party in 1971, Halonen was appointed parliamentary secretary to the prime minister three years later. In 1979, she was first elected to parliament, where she held her seat for five consecutive terms before assuming the presidency in 2000. She was also a five-term member of the Helsinki City Council from 1977 to 1996.

Halonen served in three cabinets, as minister of social affairs and health from 1987 to 1990, minister of justice from 1990 to 1991, and minister for foreign affairs from 1995 to 2000.
On the international level, Halonen has played an active role at the Council of Europe, first as deputy chair of the Finnish delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly from 1991 to 1995 and later in the Ministerial Committee. During her term as foreign minister, Finland held the EU presidency for the first time, from July to December 1999.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Baby Boom

I have mentioned to some of you that there is a bit of a baby boom going on among my loved ones, and some of these kids already have web sites. Kids these days learn so fast! Congratulations to the following and some have links. If others have pictures online anywhere let me know:

Mike Szala and Pamela Pilon-Szala have a new baby girl named Lily
Christine and Scott Lawrence have a new baby boy named Gavin
Shintu and Cherian have a new baby boy named Thomas, brother to Rosemary
Arben and Anida Pustina have a new baby boy named Patrick
Amanda Mongeon and Drew Gauley had a new baby boy named Cadence
My cousin Angie just had a baby but, ack, I forget the name, little help?

If I have forgetten anyone, forgive me, the sonar emissions from our loaner cellphone are messing with my brain.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Immigration and Celebration

Our meeting at the Immigrant Services Office was a great success. We really hit it off there not only with Jaana but also her collegues, one of whom is a Morrocan man who goes by a Finnish name and speaks several language, 3 of which overlap with Miia's multilingual mosaic. He had a great energy and really warmed to our leftist feel-good politics. He also had a great laugh that echoed through the centre.

Unfortunately it was a short meeting because we arrived late (my fault) and they all had other meetings to run off to. We hope to return to Jyvaskyla before we head to Estonia and see them all again. We had a great exchange explaining each other's system. Finland's immigration system seems much more centralized, a bit more organized, but a lot more difficult for immigrants and worse for refugees. Last year Finland accepted a total of 11 out of about 3,000 refugee claimants. Wow. There are a few hundred others who are granted status from refugee camps, but the rate of entry is very low for a wealthy country with oodles of space. Like Denmark, Finland has a planned integration system which offers the valuable support of consultation with a social work, but is quite bureaucratic and follows the assumption that the newcomer has to make all the changes to fit in. Same as in Canada in practice, though there is some work emerging to change that. It was a fascinating two days of professional exchange that was a totally unexpected bonus.

We moved on to meet Francis "Kojo" Akoto. Kojo signifies that, like me, he was born on a Monday. Francis is from Accra Ghana with roots in the north part of the country. We took him out for a kebab and had a good time talking about living in a new culture and country. He promised to explore some potential working opportunities for us, volunteer or paid, in journalism for me and working with none other than former President Jerry Rawlings for Miia! He was a great guy and whatever comes of it I really enjoyed meeting him. His amazing website is Ghana Web.

We celebrated our anniversary in Lahti, not too far from Helsinki, a smallish city with a theatre, hotel, a great Indian restaurant, and the best swimming hole outside of Dartmouth Nova Scotia. They had three diving platforms, one at about 2 metres, one at 4 metres, and one at 7 metres. We dove off the lowest and jumped off the other two. Seven metres looks pretty tame until you look down from it, and you realize that you are higher than nearby building. Once we saw kids a third our age and half our height do it, our pride was left with little choice. We survived, got a picture (which we may post later).

One last thing, a poem for my one-year wife (don't read this if you are the anti-romance type. For you I recommend Nietsche):

Tar smells over birch tree stings
and temperatures at both extremes
Bodies there lay totally bare
and yours bore all my big dreams

In darkness we dove
till moonlight we rode
followed roads into our past
"Moonlight suits you" I said
it went to your head
these were the times that last

If novelty's gone
our future lives on
we can't forget the past
Gets better from here
we shake all our fears
and hold each other fast

Your body round
so deep and profound
explains the universe
My eyes explore
my hands adore
the reasons why we work

An experience shared
a common concern
rooted in compassion
We stay the same
steady as rain
pictures fall from fashion

The wrinkles that come
as the skin sags
from our bodies proof of age
We'll see it all
the Roman fall
when idiots outsmart the sage

The brook babbles by
dry leaves under thigh
softness of cries escape
Sometimes we scream
through nightmare dreams
before laughter finally takes shape

Salt on my lips
searching your hips
seeking the taste of skin
Latin feasts
sea-supplied beasts
Making the most of sin

The heat of promise
broken and kept
delayed and finally delivered
The warmth of home
the rush of bliss
elevating the peak we entered

The brush of your skin
you invited me in
I finally decided to stay
Your lips on my cheek
my strength when I'm weak
the constant in my days

Hot tears on my face
so easily traced
from all the times I cried
My love my hope
my strength my faith
My reason never to die

Miia's elk, the fam, helsinki market

Farmer on church ceiling, Miia Muumu and Vainu, folkart in church, the fam, aulikki in pew

Suokonmaki view, marrkku mika sian, miia ya mummu, old well, finnish baseball

Time stood still, Suokonmaki flowers, suokonmaki 'fort', suokonmaki butterfly, chris jamming a 15 foot basket

Illuminated Cave Art, Citroen, Jyvaskyla watchtower, view of Jyvaskyla, Petteri ja Cirri, Savonlinna castle

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Earth Sighs

R-A-I-N. Finally. Finally, rain.

Six weeks and there had been nothing. One morning as I was pumping water from our well (we have no running water at the cottage), nothing left but air. My aunt Liisa tells me that the well has never run dry but that was before this summer and the seemingly endless dryness.

Chris and I stood on the porch of the cottage and the heavy air changed and the heavens were wrung. Down it came. How good the forest smelled and I swear I could hear the ground sigh at last. The water level in the lake was down so low I swear we could almost walk across the lake, no Jesus miracles necessary. Now it's already coming up again. Praise be.

Some weeks ago I decided to check out the local social work office in the small town where we're living. I wanted to find out something about Finnish social work and how it differs from that in Canada. In particular, in a country with such a strong social security system, what is the role of social work (and where are all the activists?). I'm also always interested in what the deal is with immigrants to Finland since our last visit to Helsinski seemed more multicultural than in past years and maybe Finland is changing! The social worker I met with barely looked up from the paperwork on her desk, curtly told me she had no time to talk to me about anything, and in response to my inquiries as to where I might find some relevant literature, she said simply, "You can find whatever on the internet." No websites, mind you. Just that great magical mystery of google and the world wide web. Sigh.

I felt a bit despondent but was just about to get back on my horse when my 'little cousin' (Finnish for second cousin) called me up. We've never met but she'd been in touch with my dad and decided to call. One will find this hard to believe but this woman who has lived her entire life separate from mine, is Jaana Suokonautio, social worker with immigrants and refugees. It's true. We decided we should meet so Chris and I hopped in our Ferrari (read late 90s Ford Fiesta) and here we are. We met with Jaana and a colleague Kati who is the director of Jyväskylä Immigrant Services. We talked for two and a half hours about immigration in Finland and Canada, role of NGOs, roles of different levels of government, service provision, and the rest. Chris and I were impressed and surprised by what we learned. For anyone interested in more details, send me an email at The rest of you, I'll spare you a long discussion on immigration policy that though I find not only interesting but compelling.

We spent the night at Jaana's and met her two teenage daughters who are both really fantastic. The family is tight and you can tell the girls and Jaana are very close. I liked being here and dinner lasted a long time as we sat, drank red wine, left comfortable silences pepper our talk, and then resumed stories, laughter, and a chance to discover the other. What makes two women whose grandfathers were brothers but who have never met and who have lived in two different countries interested in the same field of work? And do they have other things in common too then?

A small side note here on the name Suokonautio. I recognize that my last name has been the tongue twister to end tongue twisters in Canada and abroad. What most people don't know, however, that it is rare in Finland too. It must have been Jaana's grandfather (if memory serves) who made the initial change from Autio to Suokonautio since it was customary at the time to take the name of the place where you lived and the Suokonautio homestead is on Suokonmäki in the town of Lehtimäki. As such and as the name invention is relatively recent, there are only 60 or so Suokonautios in the world. It does not take a family historian to realize that anyone with the name Suokonautio, then, is probably a relative of mine, most probably a little cousin or something of that order. So it is that Jaana, with a lastname like Suokonautio, is automatically a family member of mine.

Back to our story, then, our plan today is to visit the Immigrant Services office and then head out to the town of Tampere where we're meeting a Ghanaian man whose website we'd found online and it turns out he lives in Finland. We will be picking his brain about Ghana and what to expect, where to work, etc. Then the evening will be at my cousin Kirsi's place with her husband Jussi and their boys Joona and Ville. Then we keep driving South.

Sunday is Chris and my one year anniversary. We are planning to do what we would do every now and again in Toronto - randomly pick a place on the map and go discover it, stay in a cheap hotel, and enjoy the privacy and change of scenery and that someone else will make the bed. A great way to spend our first anniversary. Our paper anniversary.

A big hello out to everyone out there and hugs from this end. The rain is awesome and the cottage is terrific. We owe Reijo and Liisa a lifetime of back massages for this sweet summer of forest, lakes, moonlight saunas, and afternoons on the rocks reading and washing laundry in the lake.

Much love, Miia

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Miia's Grandma reflected in the war memorial

It's interesting that she doesn't really like the war memorial, she finds it ugly. Yet it is important because she, like others from her generation, lost so much in that war. More than I can understand or imagine.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Differently Organized

Sadly, our beautiful young laptop hard-drive is kaput. Fortunately, I managed to back up almost everything before we turned it over to the geek authorities. Now we await a couple of key pieces information from Tucson Arizona, before our internaitonal Acer warranty kicks in and gets us a free new hard-drive. In the meantime, I am writing by hand like some kind of literary Luddite.

In happier news, we went dancing at the Savonlinna hoe-down and pulled our latest international dance-floor hijacking. We achieved more than I'd ever dreamed: we made Finns whom we didn't even know laugh out loud. The band gave a rocker vibe to some Finnish folk classics. Couples whirled by, around, and sometimes right through us, following all the old-school steps but maybe a little faster than before. We hung up-front with good looking rebels lacking causes, who in their johnny cool quaffs kept shouting "rock-and-ROLL!" We laughed and made up our own steps, dodging high-flying couples and holding our highballs high.

The whole experience lent weight to Miia's theory that Finns, for all their high-tech wizardry, are culturally equivilent to Canada in the last generation. I don't offer that quip disparagingly, in fact I highly recommend it to the boomer set, or Xers burnt out on ultra-capitalist hard-core consumerism. People have more traditional values here, they value hard, honest, physical work, they value independence and autonomy, they value simplicity in design and meetings ones needs. They are immensely innovative but don't generally have 18 electronic gadgets around when one will do. These are, like all cultural observations, gross generalizations. But there is value in understanding those general differences, and appreciating them. There is always so much to be learned from people who do it just a little differently.


ps. Mightn't be any new pictures until we get the laptop back, but we shall do our collective best.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Still No Rain

Oh it's been a gorgeous summer but the rain is badly needed. Something like 8mm all summer. Lake water level's down, trees already turning brown, nevermind lawns and the rest. No mushrooms this summer and the berry crop is way down, much to the chagrin of all the migrant workers who came to Finland to support their families back in the Ukraine and Thailand. It feels weird to love this weather so while hearing that people are having to watch the water levels in their wells. The impact on farmers is, as it so often is, the worst of all. One of the driest summer ever, it seems, and yet so very lovely for the rest of us vacationers spending some time at the cottage.

It's been just three or so delicious days that Chris and I have got to be at the cottage solo. With Reijo and Liisa we got to pretend we were working on a rice patty or thrown back into time, Reijo using the scythe to cut the long reeds in the lake and the three of us doing our best to rake the reeds to shore where they'll dry and be burned in the fall. No burning allowed now, see above re dry season.

It was good doing that work and my mind got to wander to all places near and far. I thought about my family, about school and what I learned, about travels, about my hopes for the future. Chris and I talked much afterward and would often debrief, although we were working side by side for much of the day. I composed many a blog entry without ever actually writing anything down.

Now just us we've cooked plenty, saunaed plenty, and the last two days we've rowed out to a cliff about 200 metres from our cottage where we sit, read, take in the afternoon sun, and dip in the water. It's pure magic and I love it. I'm hoping to coax Chris out again tonight.

My English class is about over. With just three students, I feel like we've been able to get to know each other nicely and I've been able to respond to their different English levels. Tomorrow is our last class and I think I'll even miss it. I set out to make friends and learn more about Finland from non-family members and I think I've learned a lot, though not what I had expected. I think there is a world of difference not just between Canada and Finland but I keep forgetting the difference between urban and rural too. This is small town Finland and I've spent more or less the last 18 years in Canada's largest city. Monoculture is the word that one might feel comfortable using in these parts. I don't mean this disparagingly or to be ungenerous, but I've realized that in many very good ways, it still feels a bit more old fashioned here. All of my students have spent their summer hand washing rugs by the lake shore, picking wild berries and currants, baking, and just generally being around these parts. I admire the stability and the security of small town life, how everyone seems to know each other, and how family is still at the centre. Things too seem more about personal relations - you can't burn bridges when you need to bein contact with people for much longer - and less about the individual, about personal rights, and about materialism. I think much of what I suspected when we first got here has kinda come true in my interactions with my students. As I am reading a book on Comparative Politics in Africa, I am often also reflecting on Finnish society and how it contrasts to the discussion of Africa and African history. I am learning much, I think, about who we are, how we differ, and how culture is made manifest. It will be interesting to travel some and see how these things play themselves out later as well.

So, I'm off to another boat trip I think and an evening of reading and hand washing our laundry on the rocks at the shore.

Much love to everyone!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Liisa and Reijo just told us the story of her father, who fought for the Reds in FInland's civil war when he was 17 and still in high school. He was captured and on the verge of being executed when his teacher came and claimed him. Years later he told his children, "I was a social democrat like my father because we shared a philosophy of 'what's mine is yours.' In the Red Army I saw that the socialist leaders' philosophy was more like 'what's yours is mine.'" This experience transformed him into a lifelong conservative. For his contributions as a member of the Reds he received a long ban from voting or holding public office.

After the civil war, during the Depression, he wandered the country in search of work, taking whatever job was offered, almost. He left one job, accompanied by a friend, because the wages were unlivable. They accepted a nearby factory job, but then learned that its accompanying wages were even lower than what they ahd left behind. "Let's go before they lock us in," he told his friend.

When war struck Finland again in the form of Soviet invasion he volunteered to fight because, he said, "I owe it to this country for having been a Red." Eventually, when the war began to turn in Finland's favour, he was retired from service as one of the older soldiers.

He became a professional leather worker and amateur Skier. Every year he skied more than a thousand kilometres and made countless miles of leather, right into his late 70s. At 82 he could no longer find the bathroom so he hopped out the window at night to pee. His wife would cry for help but by the time Liisa or Reijo got outside he would have jumped back inside again.

He died soon after and left an indelible impression on the ones he loved. "He always had good stories," said Reijo, "and unlike my brother he never repeated them. He read every book in the library so if he had none of his own he'd tell you someone else's."

Friday, August 04, 2006

Nobody Move, It's Perfect

Just a quickie from me too:

Things remain great here. The book is coming along nicely, I am on chapter 14 now. I expect a total of 17 or 18 chapters. The air has cooled and the days have become shorter but the weather is still beautiful. Sorry Toronto.

I have also been in touch with the Ghana project director for Journalists for Human Rights and she has already been so helpful, I am getting quite excited about that. Miia's Russian is now progressing faster than my Finnish, which will surprise no one I'm sure. At least me speak good English. I have started brushing up on the Russian Revolution for kicks.

The only not so great news is that Miia's cousin's 11-year-old daughter Heli busted up her knee on her trampoline. Apparently trampolines are not such great toys after-all. This ruins my whole plan to use a trampoline instead of stairs when I buy a house plan. Anyway, Heli will be fine but had to have surgery the other day and will be in a cast for a while. Poor kid.

Yesterday was really the perfect Finnish day. Before Heli got hurt uncle Reijo and aunt Liisa were visiting (weird to host the owners the cottage you are staying in. It's like having your landlord over for a few days, except he's also your uncle). They were scything away the grass than infests much of the shoreline. If you do this 3 years in a row it apparently stays away permanently and then you get a better beach. Miia and I were out raking grass remnants and pitchforking them to the shore. While we were out there knee-deep in water and much, Reijo left out the fish trap.

Yesterday Miia checked it and found 55 little fishies with bright red fins in there. She cleaned them up real nice and fried them in onions and butter. We ate them after an 85-degree sauna swim beer. This was after I had had a good day writing and Miia was her usual hyperproductive self. There was this moment after I jumped in the lake and I stood wastedeep in cold water. My skin was all tingles with heat and scrubbing and cold, the sun was setting over the cotton candy sky and the horizon went forever over the birch and pine. It was perfect.

Then we feasted on fish and sweet potatoes and watched a crappy DVD on the laptop with red wine.