Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Contemplating Mortality

Death be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadfull, for thou art not so,

For, those, whom though think’st, thou dost overthrow,

Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me …

One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,

And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

~ John Donne

I’m not sure why I love cemeteries as much as I do. Though it might seem morbid to many, I am drawn to them wherever I go. They are peaceful places, and I admit I find them terribly romantic. The more old and spooky looking, the better. Perhaps it is the idea that each grave has a story that appeals to the story collector in me. Whatever it is, I always wind up exploring them (and I suppose I’ll eventually get a good long visit, but that’s about a hundred years away).

With this in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I have already discovered several graveyards in Merritt or just beyond. The actual City Cemetery I found when I was running, and have since returned several times. It is a bit odd actually. On one side is the older section, which is rather gloomy looking — it is all gravel and the gravestones look a bit like they’re crumbling. This is juxtaposed with the new section, which is as perfectly manicured as a golf course. It’s nice that the City obviously takes good care of it and people evidently visit frequently (there are always flowers and other offerings), but I naturally spend more time in the older side, which has more character.

Just this Sunday I took a drive out of town and explored the old Murray churchyard. So far it’s my favourite cemetery nearby, though there are a few native cemeteries that I would like to visit. This one had a cute little old church (which unfortunately was locked or I would have explored further) and an assortment of old graves from the late 1800’s. One that caught my eye was the grave of Reverend W. B. Cuyler who died April 7, 1887. He was 28 years and 3 months. So young. I wonder how he died. The headstone also said he was a native of Bruce, Ontario. I’m sure it’s a sad story. I might just visit the museum and ask them if they know anything about him.

While we’re on the subject, I might as well tell you that it is my dream to one day have a house next to a cemetery. All my superstitious Tongan friends are probably horrified ­– actually most of you are probably shaking your heads, but there you have it. Towards the end of summer driving through the city of Fort Langley I saw my house. It was a beautiful old heritage home and next to it was a beautiful old cemetery. And it was for sale. When I saw that sign I gasped. Unfortunately I drove by that house too early in life, as I am still poor as a church mouse. Maybe it will wait for me. But until then, as luck would have it, I have moved into a tiny, not so beautiful apartment directly across the street from a little old funeral chapel. So I suppose it’s a step in the right direction. Each day I can look out the window and contemplate mortality.

The view from my living room window.

Another grave in the Murray churchyard.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Country roads and Cattle guards

I’ve been in Merritt two weeks and four days now, and so far I’m enjoying life as a small-town reporter. Several people have asked me what I write about and the best answer to that is everything. With an editorial staff of two (my editor and I), I am getting all sorts of assignments from corn eating contests to city council meetings.

On Saturday I had my first visit from friends from the outside world. Marie and Cody braved the drive up here (which was an adventure in itself as they were beyond Hope and nearly ran out of gas). Luckily they arrived safely and Merritt rolled out the red carpet with 50’s Day Celebrations and Canadian National Retriever Championships, proving that there are things to do in Merritt. This also meant that they got to be my assistant reporters for the day.

First we went for a stroll along Quilchena Ave to have a look at the 50’s Day festivities. (The event was planned as a fun community event to promote the downtown businesses.) We bought some hotdogs and Marie and Cody kindly sat on the sidewalk and waited while I snapped some photos of a hula-hoop contest. After admiring the costumes and cupcakes it was time to move on.

The next item on the agenda was a visit to the Kane Valley to have a look at the Retriever Championships. A thirty-minute drive turned into an hour when we took the scenic route by accident. The directions we got were not incorrect; it’s just that they took us to the wrong side of the Kane Valley, which meant we had a lovely drive along country roads.

One of our greatest amusements along the journey was driving over the cattle guards. I have crossed several in my lifetime without it ever occurring to me that the car was not supposed to bump uncomfortably across the grate. Cody, who is apparently a country boy at heart, quickly figured out that if we lined the car up correctly we could drive smoothly across the tire tracks. It’s a good thing he did, because we must have crossed at least a dozen by the time we reached our destination.

We also discovered that where there are cattle guards there are also cattle. We passed several right at the side of the road and stopped to take some pictures of them. They actually looked pretty mean and glared at us, which made me nervous they might try and charge my car. Luckily they didn’t.

At one point, Marie remarked that our drive reminded her of the song Country Roads and I apologized for not having any John Denver songs at hand. However, Marie discovered that she had reception and so she found the song on YouTube and played it from her iPhone. It helped set the mood of our country drive, but I admit it was comical that we needed the iPhone to fully appreciate the country.

We finally found the championships and once again, Marie and Cody kindly let me spend some time chatting with the chairman and some participants. At one point I lost them though and wandered up and down the dirt road looking for them. I even stopped a lady to ask if she had seen any “city folk” around. I finally found them sleeping on a picnic table.

Finally we drove back to Merritt and ended our day with dinner at the Hitch’N Post, a western restaurant just outside of town. I’m glad my friends are such good sports!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Reporting Live From Merritt

On Wednesday I loaded everything I could fit into my little car (a task that could only be accomplished using my Tetris skills) and set off for Merritt, British Columbia.

Merritt, located about three hours northeast of my home in Coquitlam, is a small city with a population of approximately 7000 (twice the size of Forks, WA). Though small, even Merritt has its claim to fame. You see it claims the title of “The Country Music Capital of Canada.” I do like country music, but that wasn’t what induced me to move out here. Rather it was a job at the local paper, The Merritt Herald.

As I sit here on a storage container in my little apartment (I don’t have any furniture yet) I still can’t really believe that I’m here. It could be the shock of all of a sudden finding myself in a small town, but maybe it’s the reality that I finally get to be a real life journalist.

When I first got home from my mission in February I was daunted by the task of trying to find a job. I decided to hedge my bets and I enrolled in a TESOL Certificate course through Vancouver Community College. After a very intense month, I was qualified to teach English (to speakers of other languages) and quickly found a job at an English school. Though some of the kids managed to weasel their way into my heart, it wasn’t long before I discovered that teaching wasn’t my calling in life.

Even so, I almost went to Egypt. The subject is still a little sensitive for me, but I was offered a teaching job in Cairo and turned it down. The pay was pretty low, but the real reason I said no was that I didn’t want to put off getting into journalism any more. (That’s not to say I won’t run away to Egypt in the future.)

My teaching contract ended on a Friday. On Monday I prepared for the job hunt – a process I expected to be long and depressing, but I was determined. While I was at my computer I got a tip from a friend that a reporting position was opening up at the Herald. I called the editor and said I was interested in the job. Thursday I drove up to Merritt for the interview and a week later I showed up for my first day of work. And that, my friends, is how I ended up in Merritt. I’d say the timing for all this was pretty miraculous.

Though I’m happy to be back at a paper, I still have some fears about the future (for instance I was told on my first day here that if I stayed in Merritt I would die alone), but I’m sure things will work out.

In the meantime, stay tuned to read about my adventures in Merritt!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Entering the Twilight Zone

I didn’t want to read Twilight.

I didn’t want to read Twilight because I didn’t want to like it.

Years ago, I didn’t want to read Harry Potter for the same reason. When I finally gave in to the world of wizardry I found myself dressing up for the movies and lining up at midnight for books I had pre-ordered, as well as referencing spells in every day speech.

I finally gave in to Twilight as I guess deep down I always knew I would. Now, four books, a novella, and three movies later, my friend Marie and I found ourselves embarking on a road trip to Forks, Washington.

(Not wanting to be alone in my shame, I had introduced Marie to the literary crack. She ate it up like a newborn vampire thirsting for blood. I fed it to her one book at a time and felt like a dealer every time I gave her a new book.)

When Marie first jokingly suggested visiting Forks I laughed – then I thought, why not? Forks was as good a destination as any for the road trip we were planning and after some research we found that situated on the Olympic Peninsula there were some good camping and hiking spots nearby. To our credit, if we could have gone to England for an Austen tour or a Shakespeare tour, or even a Harry Potter tour we would have, but that was a bit out of our budget, so Twilight it was.

It’s a funny thing when you tell people you’re going to Forks, Washington. As obscure as it is, most people know what you’re talking about (even the ones who make fun of you) and ask, “isn’t that where Twilight takes place?”

Just getting there turned out to be an adventure – we accidentally left on Friday the 13th (not the safest choice when visiting the home turf of vampires and werewolves). Suffice it to say we missed our intended ferry, had to cancel our hostel reservation and almost slept on a tarp in the forest. Instead we found one of the last remaining motel rooms in Port Angeles and I managed to haggle with the Korean manager and get a $10 discount.

The next morning we had a quick look around Port Angeles and then drove one more hour out to Forks, a town so small if you blink you might miss it. Our first stop was the Chamber of Commerce where we picked up directions for a self-guided Twilight Tour. (Others apparently opted for a more professional tour – the Twilight Tour Bus was close on our heels all morning). We got to the chamber too early and while we waited for it to open, we took pictures by Bella’s red Chevrolet truck parked in the lot. We weren’t the only ones. I was really amused as people of all colours, shapes and sizes began filling that parking lot – some of them (usually males) obviously there by force. We frequently ran into these people at the various tour stops and would occasionally take pictures for each other or ask directions. I guess you could say we were one big happy Twilight family.

The tour took us past the Swan home (some random house on “K Street”), Dr. Cullen’s parking spot at the hospital, Forks High School, Forks City Hall (a building which included the police station, courthouse and probably jail as well), and a bed and breakfast designated as the Cullen Home. The whole thing probably took less than an hour.

More than half the businesses in Forks, La Push and even Port Angeles seem to be capitalizing on the Twilight craze. We saw places like Bella Italia, Dazzled by Twilight, Jacob’s Java and even Twilight Firewood. I suppose you can’t blame them. I’m not sure how they survived economically before Twilight. No wonder they have a day designated as Stephanie Meyer Day (which happens to be on September 13th, Bella’s birthday, in case you’re curious).

By lunchtime we had completed our Twilight tour and decided to leave the vampire world behind. We drove to La Push, crossed the clearly marked treaty line and were greeted by a sign that read, “The Quileute Tribe welcomes Twilight fans.” We appreciated the warm welcome. We intended to enjoy our stay. We paid fifteen dollars to camp on the beach, set up our tent and enjoyed a baking hot afternoon in the sun (and the water).

The weather was gorgeous all weekend. The only glimpse we got of the usually cloudy, Vampire-friendly landscape was Sunday morning when we woke up to gray skies and thick mist covering the beach. That was our cue to leave. My only regret was not meeting any handsome werewolf boys at La Push.

In the end, despite our efforts to convince ourselves that we were not really Twilighters, when the Canadian border guard asked Marie what the purpose of our visit had been she said, “to visit the Twilight sites.” And I suppose that’s the truth. Just don’t tell anyone.

On the beach at La Push.
A morning walk in Port Angeles.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Finding joy in my journeys

Confession: I haven’t updated my blog very regularly as of late because I’m afraid of boring my readers (assuming I have any).

I first staked out this little spot of cyberspace as a way to share my Jerusalem experiences and named it fittingly “Journey’s With Jade.” This was all very well when was exploring the Holy Land or revisiting my native country of South Africa but these days I sometimes feel my life doesn’t quite live up to the title.

Luckily President Monson has reminded me to find joy in my every day journeys, and so I will continue to post my experiences on the World Wide Web for those who care to read about them.

For example, here are some things that brought me joy in Utah and Idaho:

Exploring the Salt Lake Cemetery, and visiting the resting places of modern-day prophets.

Attending a Michael Jackson party in Provo where we danced to his music and ate popcorn and popsicles to commemorate the King of Pop. (Note: I did not know it was an MJ party when I showed up.)

Watching South Africa play Mexico in the first game of the World Cup with one of my favourite SA expatriates and her Mexican friends.

Singing songs at midnight to the accompaniment of an old antique piano that had been carried to a third story apartment by thirteen men.

Heading for the beach and ending up at the sand dunes (the beach minus water) where we jumped and rolled in the sand and took lots of pictures.

Walking along some railway tracks and discussing how they metaphorically represented our lives and the choices we make.

* * *

I’m sure I’ll inevitably head off on another grand adventure before too long, but in the meantime I’ll fall back on the old metaphor that life is a journey and try to make the most of it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Crossing the Line

Funny how one invisible line on a map can make so much difference. I am thinking in particular of the 49th Parallel, which unforgivingly divides the US and Canada.

I frequently cross this line (in fact in the last six years I’ve spent more time on the wrong side of the line what with school, mission and play – just don’t mention that to the border guards) but it never gets any easier.

I’m not sure why but border guards and immigration officers all seem to have an uncanny ability to make even the most innocent of people feel guilty. I’m always terribly nervous as I wait for my turn to cross the border – never sure what they might decide to ask or accuse me of. I’m not the only one who experiences this anxiety. My dad has a habit of practicing out loud what he is going to say.

But really, this invisible line is no laughing matter. Last week while my mom and I were waiting to cross the border to go shopping I asked, “Do you think that if I were to get out of the car and start running they would shoot me?” We decided it was better not to find out.

Occasionally I will get by with the simple inquiry – “what is your purpose?” Other times it is not quite so pleasant.

Take today for instance. Here is the just of the interrogation:

Border Guard: What is the purpose of your visit?

Me: I’m visiting some friends in Utah.

BG: How long will you be gone for?

Me: Two weeks. (I then produced my flight information, which he inspected.)

BG: What will you be doing in the US?

Me: Um … visiting friends …. in Utah.

BG: What do you do for a living? (Surprise attack! Oh no, he found my weakness.)

Me: I’m currently unemployed. (Later I realize that I should have said I was a freelance writer and private English tutor, which is true.)

BG: (raises his eyebrow)

Me: I just finished a course and now I am looking for a job. (Trying to justify the burden that I am to society.)

BG: When was the last time you were in school?

Me: May.

BG: How do you support yourself?

Me: With savings and I live with my family.

BG: Your family?

Me: My parents. (Yes ok, I am 25 and I live with my parents.)

BG: What kind of funds are you bringing with you?

Me: Some cash and my credit card.

BG: You will have enough funds to survive two weeks here?

Me: Yes. (Do I look like a homeless person? Brief unemployment doesn’t equal absolute poverty.)

BG: Have you ever had trouble crossing the border?

Me: No. (Not until today.)

BG: All right. You can go.

Last time this happened, the border guard wanted to know how I knew people in Utah. I wanted to tell him it was because I was Mormon. Instead I told him I went to BYU. Seriously, I’m sure they must have bigger problems to worry about than innocent single unemployed young women going for a two week visit to Utah.

Worst-case scenario: I meet a nice young man in Utah. It’s love at first sight. We have a brief two-week courtship and get married.

Trust me Mr. Border Guard. Your country is safe. I will happily return home at the end of two weeks and breath in the fresh Canadian air on my side of the line.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Booty Duty

It’s not what you think. For the last two weeks I have been volunteering at the Vancouver Temple open house almost every other day. Most days I am in my element as a tour guide, but every now and then I am assigned to be on booty patrol.

In order to keep our brand new temple looking just as pristine as it was the day we first opened the doors the to the public, our guests are asked to wear white plastic booties over their shoes. Certainly not too much to ask, especially when we provide you with someone to actually put the booty on for you. Simply hold onto the bar, lift your foot, and voila! Ready to walk the floors of the temple (with marble tiles from Spain and carpets hand-woven in China)!

So today was my turn for this glamorous job. For six hours, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., I got to sit in a little chair designed for six year olds, and bent over I got to admire the feet of about a thousand people. Big feet. Small feet. Old feet. Dirty feet. Wooden feet. Yes, in that position, for that many hours, I placed shower cap like plastic bags over the shoes of all of our guests.

At one point one of the ushers came over and asked if we had recently “booted” a Chinese woman and her children (this was during a mad rush of people). We had to apologize and say we didn’t know – unless he could describe what type of shoes they were wearing.

I’ll be honest; at first I wasn’t very thrilled with my assignment. And then I remembered that Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World, had sat in the same position and washed the feet of his apostles. I was sufficiently humbled. My back still hurt, but I continued my labour with a new attitude. These were the feet of my brothers and sisters.

Their reactions were interesting. Most people were very appreciative. Some were surprised that we would perform such a service. A few were embarrassed and almost wouldn’t let us serve them. This made me sad. Sometimes we become so independent that we don’t let others help us and then slowly we stop helping others.

This experience has made me more determined to forget myself and serve others. And so, I am officially on the look out for more booty duty opportunities (or some variation thereof).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Beautiful British Columbia

I have a confession to make. I am in love with British Columbia. Even though I have been absent for a majority of the last six years – coming home for brief visits only between school, study abroad and missionary work – it is quite evident that the Pacific Northwest still has my heart firmly in her clutches.

Why this sudden public declaration of my love? Well, resolutions to be more fit and few coins to spend have forced me out of doors and helped me re-discover the diverse natural paradise that is my backyard. As a result, I have reached the conclusion that beautiful BC is the best place to live in the world.

As proof, let me feature three different locations each within a fifteen-minute radius of my house.

Minnekhada Regional Park

I had never actually been to this specific trail before, but my parents discovered it while I was away. One morning my mom suggested we go for a bike ride and since then I have run the ten kilometers (there and back along the trail) several times while one or both of my parents rode their bikes. With the Pitt River on one side of the trail and blueberry fields on the other, as well as beautiful snowcapped mountains in the foreground, this little excursion can be quite breathtaking (and not just from the exercise).

Rocky Point Park

We started visiting Rocky Point when we first moved to Canada 16 years ago and have continued visiting ever since. Sometimes we go for ice cream and a leisurely stroll along the pier and other times we go for a longer walk or a run around the inlet to Old Orchard Park on the other side. When it’s low tide you can almost walk right across the inlet (something I have not yet attempted). However, I HAVE participated in the Penguin Swim on New Years Day from this location.

Buntzen Lake (and trails)

Buntzen Lake was also one of the first places we discovered after arriving in Canada. During the summer we would go for picnics and a swim in the lake. Nestled in between mountains, the lake and surroundings have attracted several movie crews – you might recognize it from Lake Placid. There are also several hiking trails around the lake. On Saturday, a friend and I decided to hike Diaz Vistas, which took us up the mountain and gave us ten views of the Indian Arm inlet, with Vancouver and the North Shore mountains in the distance. After five hours of hiking we were ready for some Tim Hortons (also within a 15-minute radius from home)!

There you have it – three reasons why my heart beats for British Columbia. And so, if I roam once more from home, which I am very likely to do, I predict that in the words of John Donne, I will always end where I begun.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Letters Home

As a missionary, communication with my family at home was limited to emails once a week. In this age of technology, it is very easy for communication to take over our lives and so this “fast” from the internet and cell phones helped us focus on what we were doing as missionaries. Once a week for thirty minutes I would type as fast as possible to try and create a little window into my missionary life for my family to peek through. Below are some silent sound bytes from those emails home:

The Missionary Training Center
• If the Jerusalem Center was Hogwarts, I think this [the MTC] is the equivalent of boot camp. It has been a bit of a hard adjustment to tell you the truth, for day or so there I wasn't sure what I had gotten myself into.
• All week we have been practicing and teaching the first lesson about the Restoration of the Gospel including the fact that we have living apostles and prophets. When I saw President Uchtdorf it made it very real for me -- there in front of me was a living Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Temple Square
• In the MTC, President Uchtdorf told us that as missionaries we are extensions of the twelve apostles, called to preach the gospel.
• I talked to her a bit and then asked her if she would like a copy of the Book of Mormon and testified that it was another testament of Jesus Christ. She said she would like to read it!
• I am trying to work on my Christ-like attributes. So far I think my mission has pointed out all my weaknesses ... but hopefully it will give me the chance to improve myself and turn my weaknesses into strengths.
• On a more positive note, Heavenly Father has sent me some Jews this week! … She put her arm around me and said, "Who would have thought we'd find a Mormon Jewish girl."
• The three of us companions have been getting along well and I have adopted the name of Swartzalolo to fit in with my Tongans, Sisters Tau’a'alo and Taumalolo.
• After I bore my testimony about the Book of Mormon, I asked them if they had any questions. Ahsan, who had seemed very attentive the whole time, said, "Yes, how can I get a copy of the Book of Mormon?" Of course that is the kind of question we want to hear.
• So start praying for me now. I've been praying to go where the Lord needs me, but sometimes I put in a little request to go somewhere east coast or southern. [I got called to Georgia!]

Georgia on My Mind
• I didn't get very far with [the turtle] though because one of its claws touched my hand and I quickly put it down. Not long after that, a guy drove by in his truck and rolled down his window to see what was going on and when he saw the turtle his eyes got wide and he said, "That’s a snapping turtle!" So I don't know exactly what a snapping turtle does, but I guess I'm lucky it didn't snap.
• Things are always interesting in the south. The other day we went tracting [knocking on doors] and in one day we ended up having conversations with an ex-marine, a tattoo artist and an alcoholic.
• From the very beginning of my mission, I was praying that I would be able to experience finding and teaching someone and seeing them baptized. Of course I promised to work as hard as I could and so it is wonderful to see how the Lord will consecrate our efforts.
• I'm happy to preach the gospel and bear my testimony to those who will listen. And I guess I can better understand the apostles like Peter and Paul who rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ.

The End is Near
• Now that I have more of a sense of urgency because my time is getting short, I have to be bolder than before.
• This last week has been a very good one -- full of miracles!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Returning to the real world ...

After an 18-month hiatus, I decided it was time to update my blog. I’ve been home from my mission for exactly two weeks now. I have put off writing because I wasn’t sure how I could adequately capture the last year and a half in one blog. Of course, that would be impossible, so I won’t attempt it. Instead I will do a short series of mission snapshots to give you a glimpse of my experiences.

Welcome to Temple Square

Nestled in the very center of Salt Lake City is a beautiful 35-acre plot known as Temple Square. This sacred spot of ground was my home for the last 18 months of my life. My assignment as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was to welcome the guests that visited and introduce them to the history and basic beliefs of the Church.

Many people came with very little knowledge about the Church and I loved being able to share our message of hope through the story of the sacrifices of the early pioneers.

You see, the early members of the Church traveled to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 to escape severe religious persecution. Although the valley was uninhabited and rather barren when they arrived, to the pioneers it was a place where they would finally be permitted to dwell and worship their God in peace. They came with nothing but the few belongings they could fit in their wagons but their hearts were full, knowing that they were being led by God’s chosen prophet.

On a visit to Temple Square, the first structure to catch the visitor’s eye is of course the temple itself. However, this semi-gothic granite building represents more than great architecture – it represents the knowledge the pioneers had that God was in their midst. Knowing that God had again commanded his children to build temples where he could bless them, the pioneers laboured for forty years to complete this house of the Lord.

Every day I was able to stand in the shadow of that holy temple and bear my witness that God loves us today as much as he loved the people we read about in the Bible. But even without my witness, stepping onto the grounds people could feel a sense of peace. One man felt the difference immediately as he stepped inside the gate. It intrigued him and he was seen stepping out, pausing and then stepping back in again. One lady called guest services and asked what kind of air filtration system we had because she had never felt as good as she did when she was at Temple Square.

It is true, that Temple Square can boast of beautiful landscaping, heavenly music and lovely sister missionaries, but I think the peace people feel must be attributed to something else.

Another man who felt something was of the Jewish faith. As I talked to him, he told me he had felt these vibes in very few other places before. One was at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the other was at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. I found this comparison to be very significant. As members of the LDS church we believe that God has again restored the fullness of his gospel to the earth – the same gospel that he revealed to his ancient people. To me, the feelings of peace I experienced near that holy edifice confirm that.

What a blessing it was to spend 18 months standing on such holy ground.