After a hasty yet satisfying overseas vacation, I found my way into what was the seventh weekly Ninnavita meeting. As I locked my Schwinn bike with that of my sister’s to the stand, I realized I had a missed call from a strangely familiar number: it was — Louis-Pascal’s. He was a friend of mine I invited to join the session, and he arrived 10 minutes before I did! I stumbled into the usual hall, and there everybody was.
“Who’d like to start first?” asked Vita, after we placed our chairs in a circle. I raised an ardent hand. “Go ahead Laurence, tell us about your vacation!” came the reply. I didn’t quite know where to begin. I started about my expeditious stay in Paris, aided by my sister who vividly accounted of the golden rule in Europe: “When in a public place, DO NOT feed the pigeons, for they are like secret agents. You trigger one, and all the hidden ones jump on you!” (Luckily, our position was rather strategic). I then skimmed over the rest of my stay, then of my experience in Beijing, notably a premature diagnosis of what could have been an appendicitis by the doctor at the cultural camp that I was attending, which led to a scary overnight hospitalization. Thankfully, I was rapidly green-lighted to leave, but the experience and the feedback of others in the circle led me to add on to the golden rule to vacationing: “Don’t eat instant noodle just because everybody does, don’t sneak out to sing Karaoke with friends after curfew and come back at 3 AM (I was somewhat not involved), don’t drink questionable drinks at friends’ dorms’ reunions (I witnessed first-hand problems)”, and so on, but let’s focus on what everybody else had to say.
Our new member of the week, Louis-Pascal, depicted to us in lucid terms what his favourite location in the province was: an island with a population of roughly 10 people or less (not including moose). For it was there that his grandfather, an optometrist, bought a wooden chalet in ruins and renovated it himself, before giving it to LP’s parents in perfect condition, with an attic housing several twin beds! To get there, you must first gingerly park your car somewhere safe, then brave the boredom of a fifteen-minute boat trip to the island. But the pain is worth it: free Wifi, clean water, and some undisturbed forest. “Fun at first,” says LP, “but boring after a few days. That’s why I come and go during the summer.” His downtown-size isle is one of few prized chalet locations that are seemingly remote yet within a swim away from shopping centres. I cannot say where it lies, but it is rests in the shadow of Mont Saint-Sauveur. Should we all pay him a visit sometime?
Before we could ask about its exact whereabouts, Shobha, a fair mother of Indian descent, got us into her past experience of visiting the Philippines after one of her two sons briefly worked there. Shobha was treated very well by a host family, along with twenty other guests, and had a good time, but was stunned by the different lifestyle. For example, the family hired two chauffeurs, since our North American driving standards cannot survive in ten-lanes-of-cars-merge-into-one situations. Under these impressive highway bridges, she continued, you would find slums. It was shocking.
Tough conditions for these people, but hope doesn’t lie too far away. When Shoba flew to Japan, during her temporary stay, she was amazed by how organized this country was: whether it be hotel room service, automated bathrooms (Vita can confirm the joy of such things), train stations or even the courtesy of everyday folks. We can hope that developing countries in the area will continue to pursue better living standards, as some already have accomplished.
The narrative was continued by Maico, who told us how he and his family drove to Ottawa last week to celebrate the Independence Day of nation, Bolivia. It was a day filled with festivities, as thousands of members of this community joined in on Parliament Hill and danced to the sound of traditional tunes. “It is rather surprising that the common person doesn’t know that our community is such culturally rich,” noted Vita, for it is astonishing how in just a handful of people so many ethnic experiences can be discovered. As the conversation continued, Michael started talking about traditional Bolivian dance, and suggested that he’d be interested in doing a demonstration the next meeting.
The rest of the meeting unfolded in its usual mood: a laughter yoga session, where each session seems funnier than the one last week, a more sophisticated and fun square dance routine, and finally, a Louise-led zumba session that combines pop music and easy moves.
As I slowly pedaled home with my sister, my thoughts diverted to one thing: diversity. It was pretty impressive to me how much we could learn from just a handful of people. I was certainly looking forward to discover new experiences and authentic stories in the weeks to come.