Thursday, 26 November 2015

We Won the Lottery...

One of the most common questions we’ve been asked by friends and strangers alike is “how do you manage to stop everything and go sailing in the Mediterranean?”  Most people assume you have to be rich to make it work.  Well, truth is we have a secret.  We are rich.  We won the lottery.  Right now, those who know us best are saying – wait, I thought you needed to play the lottery to win?  That’s true.  Follow along and I’ll explain what I mean.

Janet and I have been extremely lucky in our lives.  We were born as white, middle class children in one of the greatest free democracies on the planet.  A nation that has known peace within its borders for more than 200 years, one of the world’s strongest economies.  What did we do to deserve this?  Nothing.  Was it due to hard work and perseverance on our part? I doubt it.  Perhaps we are of strong moral character or superior breeding and deserving of such a luxury? Nope. 

We were just lucky, plain old, wild arsed lucky.  Several generations ago, we each had ancestors who took a chance, left everything they knew and loved behind and moved to Canada.  Like 100% of those who now call Canada home, our ancestors came from somewhere else.  They immigrated from homes where they saw little opportunity to one where they saw much opportunity and set us up for the successes we have had in life.  We are rich because of them, rich in opportunity, freedom and security and able to make the most of our lives.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been confronted with the reality of our good fortune in a way that I knew was coming, but I couldn’t possibly have prepared for.

We have been travelling east through Greece bound for Turkey.  Our last stop was on Kalymnos, just a stones throw from the border, and now we are at Kos awaiting good weather to head south to Turkey.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 6 months you’ll be well aware of the refugee crisis currently facing Europe and Turkey (hey – I live on a sailboat and I know about it).  No matter how closely you follow the news, nothing can prepare you for seeing the reality of thousands of people running towards hope and opportunity. 

UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) Shelters, Kalymnos.

I say running towards hope and opportunity because that is truly what is going on here.  The people we are seeing on Kalymnos and Kos have  endured desperate struggles to reach Greece, and their journeys are not yet over.  Surprisingly though, their faces are full of smiles and warmth when we see them on the streets.  They have come a long way from the reality of 4 years of civil war, or many more of political oppression.   We are struck by the simple fact that these people do not simply fit within the confines of the title “refugee”.  They are mothers, fathers, doctors, business men, engineers, children, families.  They are just like you and me, and yet not.  They have endured horrors I would not wish upon anyone and yet they smile, running towards a better future.

When we undertook this journey of ours one of our goals was to expose our girls to life outside of Canada to give them an appreciation for their lives and the struggles faced by many others in the world.  It’s for this reason that I am both sad and happy when I hear Iris explain the tragedy of refugees to her grandparents.  Her simple words and struggle to ensure that she is understood when she says “the families had to leave because there was a war and the moms and dads wanted to protect their children” tells me that she gets it at the only level necessary.

Our girls have stopped asking us why there are partially (or fully) sunken boats in the harbour and why the beaches are littered with life jackets and water bottles full of urine.   The sights have become accepted and commonplace, but not acceptable and we have daily conversations about how the world is helping the refugees and what can be done for them.

Sunken boats and discard lifejackets, Kos.
More sunken boats, Kos.
Discarded lifejackets, Kos.

They understand now (as best they can) the plight of the refugees and have asked us many times what Canada is doing to help.  I wish I could give a good answer but I can’t for many reasons.  I can’t explain because I don’t fully understand why it has taken months to put together a “refugee plan”.  it seems pretty simple to me and involves 1 step – offer them a new home.  I can’t explain because I’m saddened, disappointed and embarrassed when I hear Canadians referring to refugees as “muslim extremist” or “terrorists” and suggesting that there is some kind of heightened security risk in letting them settle in Canada.  I can’t explain because I know that the only real solution is to provide security and peace for people in their homes and that saying this is so much easier than accomplishing it.

In the end, I tuck my girls in at night and give to them as much love as I can knowing that they (like me) have won the lottery and as Canadians they stand an excellent chance of never being exposed firsthand to the carnage and ruin that those we see here have.  We are rich in many, many ways, none of which involve money.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Guests and Birthday and Halloween! Oh my!

It is hard to believe we are already four months into this adventure.  I was going to start by saying that October was a month full of firsts, but the reality is nearly every day we encounter something new.  So really October was yet another month of amazing first experiences for us.  It saw us our first guests, first birthday on board and first Halloween away from home. 

I am still in awe that we had friends already visit us, we are so amazed that Becki, Andy, Logan and Jared made the trip all the way from BC to visit us in Greece.  I will admit I was nervous as the days approached to their arrival.  I was hung up on the fact that the boat wasn’t perfect, we are far from perfect sailors (is sailing perfection even possible?!) and are still very much adjusting to life on board.  How are we going to handle eight people on board a 38 foot boat for nine days??  Given the cooler weather and water temperature, I knew it wasn’t likely going to be as easy as just hanging out on a beach for nine days.  We were going to be stepping on each other’s toes, literally. 

We could not have asked for better boat guests!  I can’t believe how amazing the visit went with four adults and four kids on board!  I knew Becki and Andy have sailed before and know their way around a boat, but I never expected it to be so seamless to have them here.  Most importantly, Andy was a quick study with using our AeroPress, and I was very spoiled with coffee being ready by the time I got up in the morning.  Heaven, I tell you!

When anchoring was proving challenging (shocking, I know), Andy was with me at the bow trying to will the darn thing to stick.  And as it turned out Andy had the special touch to get the anchor to finally hold.  Becki though was the ultimate hero in placating four hungry children and making dinner in all the mayhem of complaining children and frustrated adults.  And perhaps I shouldn’t admit to the déjà vu experience the very next night. 

The girls were beyond elated to have other children to play with!  The four kids played beautifully together and I really can’t fully articulate how wonderful it was for the girls to have friends here.  After Logan and Jared left, there was a huge void for the girls.  They didn’t want to dismantle any of the Lego the boys had made.  Even when we were playing at the playground, Ella said “it just isn’t the same without Jared and Logan here”.  I couldn’t believe after nine days I wasn’t desperate for more elbow room again, the four of us were not ready for them to leave when the time came.  

The boys wasted no time getting comfortable on the boat.  We are waiting for permission to enter the Corinth Canal.
Darryl was paranoid of running into walls, but we made it through the canal unscathed despite one chunk of rock falling from the wall and splashing beside us.  
Managed to enjoy one afternoon on the beach in Aegina.
Group shot from Poros on Ella's 9th birthday!!
In the end, I was reminded that our friends didn’t care about the details that I was getting hung up on.  It was just incredible to have them here with us, enjoying this beautiful country together!  Andy, the dock lines and sheets sure miss your expert coiling skills, perhaps one of these years I will figure out how to coil a rope well. 

Ella is the first to celebrate a birthday on board!  We were so fortunate to have our friends here with us to help us celebrate Ella turning 9.  It was a low key day, but there was the usual present unwrapping, birthday song singing, present opening and pizza dinner.  The day started out emotional for Ella as it is all such a different experience for her from the usual big birthday bash with countless friends, but she came around and said she had a wonderful birthday after all.

Happy 9th Birthday, Ella!
At end off the month, we found ourselves in a country that does not celebrate Halloween.  Thanksgiving passed us by without us making any effort for that holiday, so I didn’t want to do the same again for Halloween.  We had to improvise and for someone who is the furthest cry from a Pinterest mom, I think we pulled it off beautifully.  The girls trick or treated at the one other Canadian boat docked at the town quay in Poros.  We then walked the town looking for other children to give candy to even though the local children had no idea why we were giving them candy.  The girls just enjoyed walking around in their costumes and they certainly turned many a curious head.

Not certain if this was technically a pumpkin, but we made it work.  A neighbouring Canadian boat had the brilliant idea of carving a green melon, which glowed green when a light was put inside.  Will have to remember that for next year.

Used Ella's skeleton school project as a decoration, yah short cuts!
(Not certain if Darryl qualifies as part of the decorations or not?!)

Even though the girls didn’t end the evening with a giant sack full of candy after hitting up blocks of homes, they had a great time!  I am beyond thrilled and proud of how the girls have adapted to how life is now.  Understandably they still talk a lot about what they miss from home, but overall they have adjusted beautifully.

This sweetheart of a dog in Poros was so tolerant of the girls' affections.  They would have liked him as a stow-a-way.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

A Reminder

Today I had an encounter with a local man here in Naxos.  He seemed to materialize from thin air to help me grab dock lines for a neighbouring boat.  He even took the time to teach me how to properly throw the lines back to the boat.  I know, I know, I should know how to do this by now.  I then had to pay for our stay here in the harbour with him. 

He was such a kind, gentle man.  He took the time to chat with me about where the chandlers and grocery stores are located.  Even gave me directions to this amazing bakery where they bake their bread with a woodstove.  (On a side note, after many wrong turns in the labyrinth that is Naxos, we found this bakery.  The bread was still warm and needless to say the bread did not make it back to the boat once the four of us got our hands on it.)

Anyway, you get the idea.  This man had such a warm nature.  Right after I returned to the boat from paying for our stay, a woman from a neighbouring boat stopped by to say hi.  For some reason the woman shared with me the information that this man I had been talking with is currently undergoing chemo for pancreatic cancer.  Well to put it mildly, this hit me like a ton of bricks.

On November 9 my dad would have turned 75 years old.  It is hard to believe it will be 5 years in December since my dad passed away from pancreatic cancer.  What a terrible disease, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.  To watch my dad suffer and waste away is still the hardest thing I have experienced. 

When I looked again at this man I met this morning, I immediately recognized the similarities to my dad.  Everything about this man reminded me of my dad, from his warm, calm nature to his willingness to patiently show me the ropes (pun intended).  And yet here is a man who I know is experiencing immeasurable pain from what I witnessed my dad experience. 

Perhaps it is the timing of this encounter so close to my dad’s birthday, but it has hit me tremendously hard.  The fact that my dad had only nine healthy years of retirement is one of the primary reasons I made this decision to jump into this adventure.  To follow our dreams while we have our health and just live life to the fullest because you just don’t know how much time we have on this earth. 

I often wonder what my dad would think of what I am doing.  Travel was never his thing.  What I do know is he would think we are crazy to have sold our house and taken such a financial gamble.  But I also know my dad would still support me and be proud of my taking a chance to see what else life has to offer.