Tag Archives: Cool people

Free cake in Lashkar Gah, Helmand (May 2014)

[This post is being published out of order; it was written in May 2014]

There is free cake in this story, though you may not believe me at first. But trust me, there really is free cake, so read on…

The MSF mechanic testing our moody incinerator burner:

Flamethrower in Afghanistan

A couple of months ago, my mechanic in Lashkar Gah (provincial capital of Helmand, Afghanistan) requested a few days of annual leave to visit his relatives living in Pakistan, including two of his sons sent there for studies. Sadly, he wasn’t able to make the trip as planned; instead of spending father-son time with his young boys, he helped with funeral arrangements in Kandahar for his sister-in-law and her husband. Driving down a dirt road in one of the districts, their tractor hit a roadside bomb. When my mechanic arrived back to Lashkar Gah, he brought his phone to show me photos of the little that remained of the tractor – a few oversized shards of metal contorted into oversized barbed wire, sitting in the tall grass by the side of the road, serving no purpose to anyone.

He’s a tremendously funny guy, though – check out his beard:

Snowbeard in Lashkar Gah, Helmand, Afghanistan

In April, about a week before I left Lashkar Gah, my mechanic had a baby daughter born in the maternity at Bost Hospital. One evening several days later, he called me for help – his wife was unwell and he worried her condition was quickly becoming serious. He brought her to the hospital, where the maternity staff took care of her, and it all turned out quite well.

The following morning, I could see on his face that my mechanic hadn’t slept very well – a logical outcome after the stress of the previous night. As a general rule in Afghanistan, there is a separation between men and women. Owing to this cultural norm, men are not allowed inside maternities, with limited exceptions in some facilities for male hospital staff. He therefore had to return home after his wife was admitted, driving two female relatives to the hospital to act as his wife’s caretakers during her stay.

It came as no surprise to me that he was so tired, but as I spoke with him near the huge hospital generators, he appeared not to understand much of what I was saying. With faint signs of pain on his face, I asked if he had a headache and needed to see the staff doctor. His smile – a smile I knew very well after nearly nine months working together – told me that I was on the wrong track but that he would happily help clear my silly foreigner confusion (I was fortunate to manage a team of guys who were not shy to point out and correct my frequent incomprehension, but were also skilled at doing so without offending me at all).

Adjusting the fuel flow rate on an FG Wilson diesel generator

Letting loose a little laugh, he pointed to one ear and said “Sorry, my heering… no good – no workeen. Paroon (yesterday) nighte, my wipe go haspital. After, I bring anadder, stay haspital por my wipe. I am dribe near Kandaharadda (station for buses going to Kandahar), in prant ob maykanic shope. My car, here – fipty meeter derr – blast. My ear apter, no good. Yesterday, two ear, no good. Today, one ear ok, one ear steel no good. Bat, no problem.”

If you didn’t quite understand, allow me to translate: “Sorry, I’m not able to hear well. Yesterday night, I took my wife to the hospital, then I made a second trip to bring female relatives to stay with her. I was driving near the Kandahar bus station, past the mechanic shops, when there was an explosion fifty metres from my car. I couldn’t hear properly afterwards. Yesterday, my hearing was bad in both ears; today, I hear well in one ear but not the other. It’s no big deal, though – I’m fine.”

Later that day, as I drank sweet afternoon tea with my technical team in the workshop, the mechanic arrived with something to share: cake to celebrate not being dead. I joked that I was happy he was alive, because we got free cake as a result. While he understood my English better than he let on, he replied in Pashto, as he often did. I understood his words before my assistant could translate: “I’m not happy. If I were dead I wouldn’t need to spend money on this cake!” We all laughed with him, enjoyed a few minutes of cake and tea, then returned to our job of keeping Bost Provincial Hospital running.

Pat Buckley (17 March 1948 – 11 July 2011), the man who taught me I had a brain

Patrick Buckley, 17 March 1948 - 11 July 2011

Pat Buckley entered my family’s life many years before I was born, and remained a steady source of good humour and resilience for the quarter century I knew him. It’s always hard to deal with a friend’s death, especially when that friend was such a constant fixture in my family’s life. Us kids grew up seeing Pat and his daughters at least once a week and sharing a lot of memories. We even got to share a house for a while! I never much care for organ playing, because it just doesn’t sound quite right if the organ isn’t played the way Pat always played it. He helped bring music into a lot of people’s lives, and was an accompanist literally hundreds of times for my mom’s singing. I was always impressed by, and will always be inspired by, Pat’s ability to maintain a positive attitude in difficult circumstances. With his stories and his jokes and his music, I’m sure a bit of his attitude rubbed off on a lot of people over the years.

I still remember how some of us kids used to flip upside down onto the old brown couch we had at our house on 41st, so that we’d end up standing on our heads with our feet up against the wall, and Pat joking that it was bad for our brains. I remember like it was yesterday, insisting that I did NOT have a brain! And he kept saying that I did in fact have a brain, and I refused to believe him. It didn’t matter that I had no idea what a brain was, I simply thought I didn’t have one. Pat laughed, and of course he didn’t make us stop goofing around on the couch!

The funniest thing I remember from when we all lived in the same house, was when Pat decided to teach us kids how to make honey when my parents were out. I even remember that I was standing at the north end of the white kitchen table as I made my bowl of honey, just the way he told us to do it. It was years before I realised that the brown sticky product of mixing massive amounts of brown sugar into your bowl of hot porridge is not actually real honey. It sure was tasty though, and wasn’t the last time I made it!

Pat will always be dearly loved and missed by our entire family, to whom he showed so much kindness over the years. While I was in Vancouver this spring, I had the good luck of bumping into Pat in Oakridge Mall, near the White Spot. We had a great chat – I could see a few people seated nearby were listening and I imagined at the time that they wished they could be part of our conversation – and, having said our goodbyes, I walked away with a smile on my face (which is really saying something, as it’s extremely rare to catch me alone in public with a smile on my face). I would really have liked to see Pat again.

Colin Jack, Beer Expert and All-Round Awesome Guy (1970-2011)

I first met Colin Jack in the fall of 2004, when my brother Dan and I signed up for the UBC AMS Minischool course titled “Beer Tasting.” Three guys were running the show: Colin, Rick, and Zayvin. Longtime friends, they knew how to teach us the science, the art, and the fun of tasting beer. Colin put a lot of effort into Just Here For The Beer, including creating the annual Canada Cup of Beer in Vancouver which has been gaining popularity every year, and regular radio shows on AM 650.

Colin was a good teacher and a good friend, and as a result I took his class three times at UBC, learning more each time. I thought so highly of him that, when I returned from a year abroad in 2005, I hand-carried glass bottles of Beer Lao as a gift for him and the other Just Here For The Beer guys – something you couldn’t find in any beer store in BC at the time. I was lucky enough to volunteer at two Canada Cup of Beer festivals, and attend a third one last summer when I visited Vancouver, and I had a great time at each one thanks to the effort that Colin and his friends and family put into the festival. I had been looking forward to seeing him in three weeks at the next Just Here For The Beer event in Vancouver. I’m sad I won’t get to share another laugh with Colin, but I have a bunch of very happy memories to keep hold of, and am very thankful that I knew him. I’m sure that many of my friends will feel the same way.

He died on the weekend, just 40 years old.

The last class of my third and final beer tasting course, UBC, Vancouver, March 20th, 2007 with Colin on the far right side of the photo:

The last class of my third and final beer tasting course, UBC, Vancouver, March 2007

Colin at the Canada Cup of Beer, July 6, 2008:

Colin Jack at the Canada Cup of Beer, July 6, 2008

Vancouver Courier article about Colin: http://www.vancourier.com/life/Raising+glass+with+heart/4383112/story.html

And the award for Best Director goes to… Josephine Anderson!

My sister Josephine is an up-and-coming filmmaker and, as with all four of my siblings, I’m extremely proud of her. Back in mid-December, Josephine got an invitation from Nokia to participate in their Nokia N8: Direct and Project 1 minute film competition after Nokia saw her website: JosephineAnderson.ca, which I helped her build and maintain (yes, I’m bragging).

So, on January 19th, my sister headed downtown to the Vancouver Art Gallery where all the film entries were to be screened. The room was filled to capacity, over two dozen short films were shown, and people were amazed over and over by what can be accomplished when working with only 60 seconds.

Then, the host announced the winner: Josephine Anderson.

Check out her creative video below. Then, if you’re interested to see some of her other projects, head over to her website and take a look!

[tubepress video=”19021923″]

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Now, if you enjoyed watching any of her films, how about sharing the love by sharing this here link with a few of your friends?

If you’re curious about the Nokia film competition itself, check out this informative article.