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.


  1. I think of you with every report of refugee plight in Europe. Don't ask me what I think of when I hear the disingenuous and hateful comments of elected, and those hoping to be elected, officials in the United States. As you might imagine, Texas is particularly bad.

    I'm so glad the girls get it. They are lucky to have you as parents.

    Today is Thanksgiving Day here and it is touched with so much irony. Your post made it a more perfect and thankful day. I'm so happy to call you friends. -Rhea

    1. Thanks Rhea - we too are happy to have friends like you. Unfortunately, playing to the cheap seats is always the most expedient move - for politicians and non-politicians alike. Not sure how to make it better, except to vote for integrity and hope others do too. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your friends/family.

  2. Very touching post, particularly because it is our Thanksgiving Day. And, we are grateful to know you, and hear your first hand perspective.

    1. Thanks Neal. I hope you, Kim and your loved ones had a fantastic Thanksgiving.

  3. Worthy of being published as a column somewhere Darryl. Well said.

    1. Funny you should say that. I've submitted it for consideration in the monthly rag the sailing association we belong to publishes...maybe I'll send it further afield too. Hope all is going well for you - thinking a lot about home and friends as we approach the holidays.

  4. Well said. Still too many Canadians here at home, having never really "travelled" anywhere (cruiseships or beach vacations really do not count as "travelling"), who are expressing xenophobic comments against refugees and muslims. Thankfully, the new JT federal government is still pushing ahead to bring in 25000 Syrian refugees over the next 3-4 months.

    1. There is something to be said for immersion. The latest news snippets I've seen from Canada seem to suggest we're heading in the right direction but it shouldn't have taken a change in government...still its better to be hopeful. Maybe compassion will trump hate this time.