Thursday, 13 December 2012

Nuclear industry fudges figures.......

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride”

In the S-P, Nov. 30 Business section, Mr. Gitzel, CEO of Cameco Corp presents a report of the nuclear industry that is very much at odds with the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2012 and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). While he is well paid to sell the industry, being factual is unnecessary.

The authors of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report are not particularly friendly to the nuclear industry but neither are they a bunch of rabid anti-nuclear environmentalists - they simply “tell it like it is”. The IAEA promotes and licenses the nuclear industry world wide.

Mr. Gitzel says that there will be 80 new nuclear reactors on line in 2021. To make that a reality, there would need to be a lot more ground-breaking today. Of the 59 currently listed as being under construction, 9 have been on the list for over 20 years, 4 for 10 ten years and, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, 43 are not yet close to an official start-up date.

Some of Mr. Gitzel's figures are wishful thinking. He says that there are four new plants being built in the US; in fact, there are no new plants being built South of the border. In addition to US cancellation, Brazil, France, and India have cancelled their new builds and the Netherlands may follow suit. Mr. Gitzel and China may want to have 26 under construction but not a single construction site has yet been opened. Constructions in Bulgaria and Japan have been abandoned and the Finnish Okiiluoto 3 site is so delayed and so far over budget that it is in jeopardy.

The nuclear industry has been its own worst enemy. An industry born in the secrecy of the Manhattan project for the nuclear bomb in the 1940's, it has continued to operate largely behind closed doors. Power plant construction has been highly government subsidized, consistently subjected to lengthy technical delays and always massively over budget. Adding to this litany of faults is the failure of the industry to convince any insurance agency to cover its liabilities in the case of an accident.

When things go wrong - as they did at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima - they go really wrong. The toll to human lives and the environment is astronomical, clean-up impossible and financial costs beyond belief. The radiation that boils the water that creates the power is messy. It gradually destroys pipes, containment vessels and finally “clogs” up the fuel itself. Seventy years of wishing (and trying) has not “harnessed” the atom - it has not even come close. It cannot even be contained.  Furthermore, nuclear power is like building an outhouse without putting a hole under it - there is no place for the waste to go!

Each previous accident resulted from entirely different sequences of human and technical failures; accidents will continue to occur, especially as older plants are being refurbished. Costs are high, builds and repairs, refurbishment and refuelling cannot be completed within - or even close to - estimated times and accidents are devastating. What's to like about nuclear power?

Is it green? (S-P, Dec. 7, 2012) Those promoting nuclear as a rescue to global warming get mixed up about the proportion of the world's energy that is actually provided by nuclear power.  The fact is that nuclear powe represents less than 3% of the world's total energy use. Increasing its share of electricity production would not make a dent in preventing climate warming.

(Nuclear power accounts for only 11% of the world's total electrical production, down from its peak in 1995 of 17%. At the current rate of new builds vs old power plants reaching their end dates, the IAEA estimates a 2040 share of 6.7%.)

Factor in mining, transportation, carbon-costs of construction, security, waste management and decommissioning, all at the greatest cost of any source, nuclear power is only “green” at best when it is up and running at 90% or better - a figure rarely reached by most reactors.

Cost to our pocket books and to the environment is incredibly important. At a time when Saskatoon city council is trading off improved bicycle paths for fixing potholes in streets, doesn't it make sense to invest in conservation and sustainable energy sources?

Friday, 17 August 2012

Poundmaker on the way to CYM

In Cutknife, in West Central Saskatchewan, a museum and campground are laid out like an early settler town honouring homesteaders of more than a century ago. There is no mention of the historic site 17 km North of Cutknife, overlooking the Battle River. There, a deserted building and some attractive but sparse signage are connected by weedy, unkempt walkways. Here you can find the graves of Chief Poundmaker and one of the warriors who fought for their people and their land in 1885.

In March of that year, Chief Poundmaker with others approached the Fort at Battleford begging for food for their families. The buffalo had been relentlessly slaughtered, their hunting grounds privatized and parcelled out to homesteaders and their people were starving to death. Their request was refused.

Several weeks later, a group of young men raided the Fort supplies and invaded some homes of settlers – killing no one. Lt Col. Otter at Battleford gathered a militia with guns, ammunition and the early version of an machine gun, the “Gatling gun” to attack the Indians.

Chief Poundmaker's tribe was out-numbered and out-armed but they knew the land. Although the army surprised the Cree by attacking in the early morning, the soldiers were in retreat six hours later. Chief Poundmaker prevented his warriors from following the soldiers and thus a wholesale slaughter.

For defending his starving people and showing mercy, the Chief was sentenced to three years in Stony Mountain Prison. After his release, he walked to visit Chief Crowfoot in Alberta – where he died a year later at the age of 44.

Nothing about this story is fair. Nothing is just. The children of children of children of settlers now repeat a mantra of pride in the land - “our farm” through five generations, The children of children of children of the Cree are crowded onto a tract of land – beautiful, but far from enough land to sustain a community even if all could enter today's deformed notion of an economy.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is only a part of the way back for the settler and First Nation relationship. They offer a debriefing to those who suffered under the residential school system but do nothing to alter the settler sense of entitlement.

For thousands of years, people lived on this land and did not deplete its resources. While entire civilizations in Europe and Asia razed their forests, polluted the atmosphere and dirtied their rivers, the people of Turtle Island maintained stewardship and sustainability. The settlers called them “savages” but the land they claimed from them was still virgin.

The Conservative government's last onslaught on Indigenous populations has been to cut funding for housing on reserves; having never provided adequate housing for those from whom the land was stolen, the next step is privatization of the reserves.

Overlooking a vast valley of rich river bottom, Poundmaker's legacy is uncertain. The settler populations have polluted it with pesticides and herbicides, and cut down its trees. Mother Earth is being attacked, her blood and bones extracted, the excrement discharged into the atmosphere. On a continent where much was “commons” as recent as one hundred and fifty years ago, today, even our water is threatened.

A sad state of misplaced values.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Only One I'll Ever Have

Back pain.  I cannot remember when I didn't have back pain. Maybe before an tobogganing accident at the age of 18. I was hospitalized and told that I had broken my sacrum.  I knew a lot of other people with back pain so it didn't seem to be a big deal.

I lived the life of taking over-the-counter pills and seeking distraction from pain; two aspirin sort of coped with pain when distraction didn't work.

When I was 36 years old, I was diagnosed with arthritis. Both of my knees had became hot, painful and swollen. I was told that it could be rheumatoid arthritis; all the symptoms settled on regular enteric coated aspirin and, given available treatments in 1976, I couldn't see any reason to investigate further. (Time has not confirmed the rheumatoid. My hand deformities are osteoarthritic.)

In 1988, my pills and distraction were no longer working. I was taking what I considered an inordinate amount of antiinflammatories and had progressed to using 292's (aspirin and codeine).  I was chronically grouchy because of the pain and the pills. Mainly back pain, but other “hot joints” were sometimes painful too. The pain was at the level of 3-4/10 where 10 (on my scale) is a broken bone.

A physiotherapist had recommended exercises in 1983 after the birth of my third child and I'd do them for a few weeks and decide that they “weren't working”.  I had never done focussed exercise over a length of time. A masseuse helped loosen up some of the stiff muscles and I started slowly, adding exercises from a Safeway check-out booklet called “exercises for your back”. When I sought her advice again in 1991, I could say, “I don't think that the exercises have altered my pain but I feel better.”

She examined me. Poked me in the belly and said, “what are you doing for your abdominals?” She described the layers of muscles and the exercises that built strength in each layer and left me with assortment of core strengthening exercises.

Nine months later, the second week in April 1992, I had a painfree week without pills. It was awesome.

I never stopped doing back exercises. The routine included 1 hr/day 5/7 days with back exercises and free weights plus about 12 minutes of yoga daily. When I could, I attended drop-in exercise and yoga classes. A few days are painfree, most days are tolerable at 2-3/10 and some days aspirin and naproxen came in handy. Twenty years of this routine.

November 2011, I slipped on ice and landed on my sit-bones (ischial tuberosities). My sacrum, the flat place at the bottom of the spine, propelled by gravity kept going and the SI joint ligaments were painfully injured; there was pain in my pubic symphsis (the bump just below the abdomen). I was practically bedridden.  It healed like ligamentous injuries, five days of excruciating pain, five days of severe pain and then four weeks of slow motion, massage, heat, physio, gentle exercise anti-inflammatories. Two chiropractic treatments at two months completed recovery.

Then, four months later, in Mali during a military coup, it was re-injured and the pain and disability were worse that previously. This time there was pain radiating into the thigh and across my butt muscles.  This was serious – twice laid up for weeks within the same twelve months. Time to quit being my own doctor.

When I got home, appointments were made with a mental health counsellor, physiotherapist, chiropractor, and a back specialist (xrays). In my absence, Bill had assembled a ten centimetre pile of reading material on backs from which two books spoke to my condition.

Two of the messages was consistent through all practitioners (and the written material) – 1. healing takes time and the November injury to ligaments was going to take at least a year to heal and 2.  focussed exercise was the mainstay of the healing process.

The physician. “We should look at that xray together” he said. “Oh no”, I thought, “this doesn't sound good.” What did we see? A fully compensated 60 degree scoliosis in the lower thoracic-lumbar region accompanied by “extensive severe osteoarthritis”; furthermore the bones appeared osteopenic (thinned).

I was stunned. All these years, my belief was that I was treating mechanical back pain, not structural chaos. For the next two weeks, every twinge bought the image to my inner eye. I felt old and deformed. I was depressed over the thought that “this is as good as it gets”. Visions of spontaneous vertebral fractures threatened my activities. The paraesthesias (sort of a numbness) of the lateral nerve of the right thigh (I had diagnosed it as idiopathic), the almost constant discomfort in my lateral quadriceps (I just thought that I wasn't “conditioned”) - both of these originated from the back.

Yet, there was no treatment other that what I was already doing. I was already taking calcium and vitamin D (in the winter), salmon oil and the occasional aspirin or naproxen (even with a stomach protector like omeprazol, my gut eventually hurts so they have to be stopped intermittently).

More exercises were recommended, increasing to two hours daily with more core involvement. I was drinking more than my share of alcohol (good for pain, bad for osteoporosis) – I stopped that. The chiropractor recommended glucosamine and increasing my salmon oil capsules; the physician gave me a prescription for a SI stabilizing belt for use in severe SI joint pain.

I could not get that awful xray out of my mind.  It haunted me – I woke my housemate in Ottawa screaming in a nightmare! Every twinge added to my depression. I had proven to myself time and again that going more than two days without “the routine” was never worth it – now it was two hours a day!! How was I ever going to find time to do this?

I needed an attitude change.  First, was the importance of exercise.  I realized that I had internalized the impression that my exercise routine was sort of an indulgence, like painting my toenails, when, clearly I had to think of exercises more like brushing teeth or washing armpits. Absolutely essential to my health.

Second eureka occurred in a Yin class of hot yoga (very slow stretches in a heated room).  I spontaneously envisioned my back as it was from the outside, what it could do and how well it had performed all these years in spite of its deformities. I could and would work on being thankful for the twenty years of routine – and for my advance planning.

In 1987 when we were building our house, I had the carpenter create a pair of raised garden boxes at the side of the deck so that I could garden in the event that I could no longer bend. They stand slightly higher than waist height, are arm-reach width and deep enough to hold the roots of most garden plants. Last year we began construction on a ramp for the entrance. Instead of walk-in closets, the master bedroom has a dedicated space for back exercises and yoga. My free weights are part of the living room furniture (if they are handy, they are more likely going to get used). For years, I have done exercises in public parks, stairwells in hotels and airports. Sometimes watching a video makes exercises more interesting.

In short, I have a crappy back bone but I am a lucky woman! There are many to whom even getting started is the biggest barrier.  I have cleared that hurdle by years!  

Monday, 9 April 2012

Encounter with Lenore. Rummage anyone?

Monday, April 9th.

Tomorrow, I'll have been home for a week. Healing mind, body and soul is taking longer than I expected. I planned to be back to normal today...either there's a great big NORMAL right around the bend, or I've been over-optimistic about my powers of regeneration. I had forgotten about Lenore's stuff. At the very time when we are trying to cut back on my flotsam and jetsam, we've inherited a entire other person's hoardings!

The heavy lifting was largely done by Beth and Shayna - clearing the clutter and lifting the dirt. They pioneered the sorting system that worked for us:
1. Stuff that had value: a) a known destination. Like the Keyser family Bible. b) monetary value, worth selling. Like her freezer or washer-dryer, futon, her bed, her electric chair. (offer first to family & friends). c) sentimental - check with person or persons.
2.      2.  Good rummage
3.      3.  Crap
4       4.  Stuff to Re-cycle

There is an odd scent that clings to her belongings – very unpleasant, like extremey rotten meat. Bill thought that it might have come from the freezer but that is now spick and span. The smell lingers on. Since it is particularly strong on blankets and towels, the washing machine is running steadily and the lines are filled outdoors.

We've found several lists with particular designations for her belongings. The only surprise is the dresser to Marilyn Gillis. She'd frequently told me that her blue and silver hand-thrown pottery set would become mine - lately she sounded resentful and I took special care not to look interested in them  (– yet I didn't want her to think that I disliked her offering). The carved chest from Mexico that no one was allowed to sit upon or to puts one's legs upon was Beth's. The U of T chair, Lenore was convinced, was just the thing for Bill - whether he wanted it or not!

We found a letter indicating that she intended to make us the beneficiaries in her will. We don't think that she ever got around to making the change but it was nice to know that she recognized the extra miles that we (especially Bill and Beth) did for her.

There are boxes of neatly labeled sewing supplies, enough zippers for a two dozen seamstresses, bags of quilting material – wool or cotton, triplicates of cleaning supplies – sheets, towels, pillows, kitchen tools, an extra table or three, washing/drying machine combo, microwave, file cabinets, old t-v set, CD/tape/radio stereo (small), and on and on. How about floor length cotton skirts – one size fits anyone? Scarves, gloves and toques?

Anyone need something? I'll look for it! (We'll be in both Saskatoon and Regina this week so we can offer delivery services!)

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

April 2 The Long Road Home

Leaving the cocoon of the hotel Tamana, I had forgotten 
- the thousands of motor cycles and scooters carrying assortments of burdens but often men in women in traditional dress
- the unmarked sand-paved streets - transporting surfaces smoothed daily by street sweepers
- the garbage strewn side-streets, burrows amongst deserted old cars, carts and tumbling down straw huts and buildings
- the line-ups of street and seething activity on and beside the road
- the half-destroyed buildings fronting the highway - as if their fronts were sacrificed for the higher good of transportation
All the reminder that Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world.

But also I had forgotten,
- traffic lights run by solar panels that are studiously obeyed
- concrete barricades both sides across the 1.6 km bridge across the Niger river bed that demarcate the motorcycle and bicycle lanes
- clean-up efforts of the rubble in the fields and the preservation of trees
- people bathing in the river and irrigated gardens along the riverside

At the one security check point close to the airport, the driver (the manager of the hotel) tells me to "put your camera away and don't take it out until you are away from Mali."  But he is also friends with one of the soldiers, makes a show of opening the trunk - my suitcase is in the back seat - and we are waved onwards.

At the airport, the first task is to enter the scrimmage of people who want something from me - money, change money for me, sell CDs, sell me something, carry my luggage.  By the time I'm next the building, I need a place to wait, settle my nerves, finish my water bottle and get my bearings.  Two long lines of heavily burdened luggage carts end at the entrance.  People pass the line-ups and are screened by security officers before entering.  The line moves very slowing.  I really wish that I could take a picture - the clothing is colourfully everything, children gussied up with braids of every variety and practically pasted to their parents clearly no place to play,  the shear numbers of people sitting, standing seemingly patiently, the constant rumble of voices.  A very few are taking their last drags before going cigarette free for their flights - in fact, very few Africans seem to smoke (in contradistinction to the Europeans and certainly not many are fat).

Does it ever feel good to have my boarding passes in hand!  By the time the plane is loaded, I will have had my luggage x-rayed three times and hand-searched twice - lost my "tweezerman" and the battery out of my little flashlight to their garbage.  They weren't picking on me, this happens to everyone.  

At 7:30 pm, 25 minutes late, the plane, an Airbus 330, was loaded.  We hear the luggage compartment open and close, open and close - the pilot goes down the aisle twice and just when he should (workshops in Risk Management aren't just for emergency room physicians and public health officials), he announces over the sound system that the baggage loading equipment is broken and that we are waiting for a tractor to tow it away!

Whew!  At almost 8:00 pm our engines are revving and we are moving, the pilot studiously following the yellow line on the tarmac as we turn onto the runway.  Suddenly from my window, I can see that all hell is breaking out on the ground.  There are ground crew with flashing lights, someone with the red flashlights swinging them into X's, a spotlight shone on the cockpit - even to my eyes, they want our pilot to stop the plane.  He does but when the bells and whistles seem to settle, revs up again.  If the ground wasn't frantic before, this is over the top!  There are people and machines moving everywhere.  A couple of trucks with flashing lights on their cabs park on the runway in front of us making clear that our plane is not going anywhere.

The coup?  A military intervention?  But no.

From my seat at the window, the left wing of our aircraft is poised to slice into the tail wing of a parked Air France plane!  The pilot announces the issue and the ground crew confers, people standing under the wings, an apparent supervisor arrives.  For the next thirty minutes, a tractor alternatively pushes and pulls our plane back and forth levering  us to the right until clearance is achieved.  What a potential disaster! Am I ever thankful to the sharp eyed ground crew!  (Also, how amazing that this doesn't happen more often on busier airports!)

In Brussels, my task becomes “Phoning Bill”. My Visa won't work in the telephones and the phones won't allow me to charge the call to my home number. OK. I'll find the business lounge and Skype him with the MacBook Air. But my “Air” won't sign on to the “Telehotspot” because it "says" it doesn't recognize the ip address!  My iPad isn't so fussy. Finally, almost two hours after arriving and after downloading the Skype app to the iPad, we're in touch!

At this point, I'm SOO looking forward to lying down on the plane – my back is holding up surprisingly, uncomfortable in either sitting or lying for any length of time but not reverting to the original injury. The Brussels – Toronto leg of the flight is delayed by an anxiety-producing two hours which means that I probably won't make the Toronto-Regina flight. The trans-Atlantic stops in Montreal where going through customs is a snap – (keep that in mind for future trips) but which also means that when we arrive in Toronto, we're on the domestic side close to connecting flights so there is still a chance. By now the crew know that I want to get home so they arrange for me to off load first.  But this adventure is not over!  The airport bridge won't attach to our plane - the pilot announces that it is broken and we are waiting for the GTA!!!

By the time every thing is moving again, the Toronto-Regina check-in was closed – but the desk staff is willing to check to see if the plane was still attached to the boarding gate!  Whew!

Made it to Regina (and Bill's arms) twenty minutes (and ten days) late!

Saturday, 31 March 2012

March 31 A day in the courtyard

Breakfast is sitting up but not for long.  My back pain (S-I joints) is much better.  Now eleven days after it started.  (At least this sounds more like a stressed joint than a tumor!) Rather than retire to my little room, I dismantle the thin cushions of a couple of chairs and lie down on under the flamboyant tree - not in bloom.  (It is on a raised concrete "stage" at one end of the little plaza.)

A jewelry hawker who has pestered me all week manages to talk me out of the equivalent of $30 for a few earrings - he needs the money more than I.

Then to my surprise, especially when there are plenty of unused tables - but none so isolated - a white French guy accompanied by five Africans takes over the table (these are all coffee tables, not real tables) practically on top of me!  Barely a nod of acknowledgement!  Two Africans are unceremoniously dismissed to a lower table and a noisy exchange ensures.  I can barely make out a recognizable word - "donc", "voila", "aujourd'hui".  Then the Africans get up and leave - obviously not very happy with the conclusion.

The electricity stays off which makes my room into a caldron of stale air. The makeshift mat in the courtyard is a better choice and fortunately, now I am well enough to enjoy it. People come and go – who knew how active the place was – a couple of dread-locked young white French males, a woman with two children in tow gives a franc note to the manager and departs, two different black men come in requesting something (a job maybe) but are turned down, the evening waitress arrives decked out in sequins and enormous earrings, the owner and his wife are in the main bureau coming out now for lunch, all of the whites chain-smoke, a young African with a shirt identifying him as a polo player and his partner check out, several other Africans come to check out (flight time!) but the Moslem woman that I met yesterday is either staying in her room or eating on the upstairs patio (I tried but couldn't manage the stairs and, of course, she cannot come down to eat with me – among men).

The lingering mystery of the private haggle that took place earlier is answered somewhat. The white guy is checking out of the hotel with an assortment of statues and small items – a dealer and, as I watch the staff wrap his purchases, taking a serious collection with him. The statues are beautiful, some appear more attractive than those in the museum. There is an intrically carved footstool that I could covet – he says that he will be able to sell it for the equivalent of $12,000 but declined to tell me what he paid for it. He brings out a sculpted hippo which is surely an antiquity. In all, there were 30 statues, each about 30 inches tall, carved out of black or blackened wood, and a metal chest 18” x 48” x 30”, the contents a mystery. They are stacked onto a jeep to be hauled where? And how? Seems like another rape of Africa.

Around 3:00 pm the electricity comes on - and activity slows down as the heat takes over.

Nicola, the hotel manager, and I negotiate the time to go to the airport. I want to be there three hours early when the airline opens its ticket office – he wants to take me two hours earlier. I'd go in the morning if there is the slightest chance of traffic or barricades.

Again there is no one else here in the evening for dinner. This time the evening t-v is showing a peace rally that occurred in the football stadium – greater than 25,000 strong, the press called it.  It was followed by a march in the streets. Promising.

March 30 And then there was one......

Wow - off line for thirty-six hours!  Did that ever make me feel isolated!  I suspect that it was the effect of the wind, not the coup.

Today is my first day of feeling more or less human.  Besides some gentle stretches for the muscles and the fact that I feel weak all over from lack of exercises, the length of time that I can tolerated the upright position has lengthened to almost an hour.  I can think of the flight home now with more anticipation than fear!

The guests at the  hotel with its small communal courtyard are changing daily now; there aren't many but they arrive late at night and leave during the day consistent with the airlines.  Most are Africans and all speak French.  A lively petit middle-aged Moslem woman in white hejab with a little English engaged me in conversation - and then introduced me to each of the staff at the hotel.  I now know that the woman who swabs the floors is named Fanta.  It turns out that one of the shaved-headed whites is the owner - inherited it from his father.  

The remaining two of our group are nervously calling their airline, Kenya Air, going on-line, and arguing about whether to go to the downtown office or when to go to the airport.  Is the flight happening?  How are the roads?  They are twitchy - they've been to the airport twice only to return to the hotel!  Eventually they depart and at 6:15 a text comes that they are seat-belted on the plane!!  Whoopee!

Canadian embassy news is rather discouraging - an international boycott is planned for Monday.  Fortunately, my flight is Sunday.  Bill frantically checks that the flight is still planning to come.  Apparently some of the borders are now closed and the Tuaraq rebels from the North have come as far South as Timbuctu.  (Always thought of it as fictional in a youth - now it is very real and in the hands of Tuaraq "rebels" - although who knows who is who in Mali?)

So I am alone for the evening meal - and the t-v is surrounded by staff because the coup leader is making a speech.  Heads nod and the occasional sound of approval or cluck of disagreement is heard.  I can tell that he is saying things like "Mali should be for Malians" and that this country should have "social democracy" - all good words.  At the conclusion of his speech there is some cheering in the room and then very loud arguing - not everyone agrees that a coup is the way to get to a democracy. There is a little t-v kiosk outside the hotel which charges its patrons for watching and when I stroll the courtyard, I can hear the very similar sound of humans in disagreement.  

The arguing is still occurring as I slather myself in the organic "natural" German mosquito repellent and prepare to enter the mosquito netting.  Incidently, the mosquitoes here are little ones, almost like sand flies, and hard to slap, not the helicopter-sized blood-suckers that we have at home - but more dangerous with their loads of various forms of malarial parasites.  (With global warming, these little suckers are already moving North!)

Friday, 30 March 2012

March 29 Still in Mali - Noise in the Night

March 29 Noise in the Night

The roaring never seemed to stop. Damn that generator, I kept thinking. But it wasn't the generator making the noise all night. It was a windstorm.

Breakfast is delayed. The courtyard is ankle deep in leaves, dust and debris - actually very little of the latter - but since the courtyard and the lobby and the kitchen are all open to the elements, the staff clean by sweeping followed by hosing. It was quite a production - almost like good emergency room staff, no one seemed to be directing the tasks yet no one got in another's way.

When breakfast came, only the coffee was affected - it was worse than usual.

My back seems better but "touchy". Ruralmed listers have given me a list of options for recovery and I have been trying everything that remotely applies. I've examined all the muscles around the pelvis including the pelvic floor (in private needless to say) and can't find any tender places or anything remotely tense. First thing in the morning, the entire back is stiff so the advice about "modified cat-cow stretches" loosens them. I've been lying down 50 minutes, up for ten; managed up for 15 this morning but I'm lying down again now. Today I've strolled slowly around for about five minutes an hour - vertically for the first time, always in bare feet (I figure I'm more likely to trip in shoes.  So the on-line discussion about orthotics was interesting.)  The relaxation exercises looking for my chi were simply good exercises.

Things seem so settled that the remaining two guests and a friend from France are going to go to the National Museum! (It's worth a trip - some of us went last week. It is located very close to the presidential palace but it doesn't sound as tho' the coup people are targeting civilians. Hope it stays that way.)

On one of my strolls, a staff person tried to give me a light bulb. I shook my head, "Merci, non." He touched my key and gestured towards "votre chambre"; I started moving towards "ma chambre" and he started climbing the stairs. My room is (thankfully) not upstairs. Twas then it occurred to me to ask one of the only two another women at the hotel if she needed a light bulb for her room. A European would never have mistaken us for one another and I hope that she was not insulted, but to this Malian, we white women looked alike!

Nothing is working - no electricity, no internet, and no water. Since they cook with gas, everyone will eat.

When the electricity comes, the staff huddles around the t-v to watch the local station broadcast a meeting of West African leaders with the coup leaders. If this is a mediation, it doesn't seem to be going well - there is a lot of shouting and raising of fists.

Now I'll need to wait for internet to come on. 

Thursday, 29 March 2012

OK So I got the date wrong yesterday.

March 28 Day 8 Goodness, how time passes when you are having fun (not)!

Woke during the night from a dream that someone was gripping my wrists only to find myself all wound up in the mosquito netting so, keeping the door closed and using some anti-mosquito spray, I folded it above the bed. There are little splotches of blood on the sheets signifying that those minor defense mechanisms were insufficient. (Erin, our in-house entemologist, assures me that I won't actually get malarial symptoms for a couple of weeks – how reassuring!)

For breakfast, we are joined by an assortment of blacks, mostly in traditional dress of long tunic over loose pants and whites with closely shaven heads, tattoos, grubby t's and grubby pants of varying lengths. We've seen many of this hodge-podge before but not all simultaneously. One well-dressed white departs followed by a neatly dressed black carrying his luggage – shades of the colonial past.

Actually most black Africans have shaved heads too.  And I just realized how easily I've slipped into the black/white differentiation - there are second and third and much more generation white Africans too.  The shaved heads are much easier to keep clean in this forever dusty place - my white clothing is all becoming yellowed and probably my hair will soon as well.  Walking barefoot as I am now - the only things that I've "lost" have been my expensive walking sandels last seen beside the swimming pool.

Breakfast is bread, butter, some sort of sweetened gel, and coffee or tea. No milk. Orange juice is extra. One morning I ordered eggs and they arrived swimming in oil.

I asked to have the sheets changed and the room cleaned. After the woman finished, I tipped her 1000 Malian francs (equivalent to about $2) – her gratefulness was embarrassing. And telling - our respective statuses?  her wages?  her poverty?  Just plain thank you would be fine - in Canada, they pretend that nothing changed hands.

During the morning eight people leave, three come back and leave again, two come back to stay until Friday. It depends upon the airline.

Most of the hotel staff leave early afternoon, the manager telling us that they want to be home if any violence breaks out. The streets are incredibly noisy and crescendo occurs mid afternoon but we are hearing nothing. The T-V shows international soccer or BBC and the Eurocrisis – we suppose that local stations are still blacked out. 

 Some staff return to prepare an evening meal confirming that relative safety has resumed.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

March 27

March 28

I can't say much about today because I've spent most of the time asleep, the only way I know how to deal with a migraine – the second side effect of a narcotic (“but tramadol isn't an narcotic” says the pharmaceutical! - I can see why people who like the “high” of a narcotic wouldn't like it if it has all the side effects and none of the "upper").

Two people left – by Ethiopian airlines and by the technique of simply going to the airport and hanging around until they found a flight out to anywhere. They will be in Morocco looking for the next flight out of Morocco. Not a bad technique but not one that I could take on at this time.

I am well cared for, the remaining woman of our team came into the room to check upon me in regular intervals – more than I knew because she often found me asleep.

The fierce headache has me looking up symptoms of malaria and constantly feeling my forehead (??). Do I have a fever? No. Could I have some other sort of debilitating illness?  When there is already a known connection, why look for worse?  What if it is a subarachnoid bleed?  Goodness, I'm as bad as a medical student!

It's a bit of a relief to wake at midnight feeling weak but better. Now to heal the back and open the airport to Brussels Air by Sunday night. Wednesday is supposed to be a day of protest but no one seems to know who is doing the protesting nor whether they are pro or anti coup. 

 Needless to say I won't be going anywhere.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Day six - Monday

March 26

Today I stayed in my room in my bed. Two of doctors in our group produced some tramadol and urged me to take it – good pain killer, as I recall, a narcotic substitute.  But I had all the side effects of a narcotic.  The itchy nose and scalp occurred within thirty minutes paralleling the reduction in pain. At three hours, the pain is markedly diminished but the contents of my stomach came up once, twice and three times. Apparently, these side effects become reduce if a person continues to take it so I have a choice before me: will I endure the pain or is the pain reduction enough to theoretically endure decreasing side effects?  I'm concerned that my doxycycline may have been in the stuff that “bounced” up.

With my room mate, I worked on a letter from the president of the Swiss IPPNW affiliate to our African colleagues. And learned some of the vagaries of the German/Swiss languages. Sentences can run on forever, “you” is capitalized when being used formally and almost all nouns have “the” in front of them. Together we were able to turn a good letter into a fantastic one-pager.

And I began working on the grammar of a pamphlet made and translated into English by a young French woman.

Two went to the left-wing news conference and come back saying that they hadn't learned much except there was to be a pro-coup demonstration in the afternoon and that the parliamentarians used the word “révision” a lot (Indian non-French speaker reporting). They felt that prudence dictated a return to the hotel before the streets filled – if they did indeed fill. The looting of the presidential palace was presented as a positive action.

Tonight our Indian friend directed volunteers in the creation of a dangerously good tasting East Indian meal with minimum spices. (I couldn't be feeling too bad if I could appreciate the taste!)

The streets sound quiet. News arrives that an airline will be landing at 2:00 am with final destination Morocco so the usual scramble ensues to get onto it. My roommate and the prez pack up and leave only to be stopped by yellow ribbon barricade guarded by soldiers. Another failed attempt. There apparently have been a number of flights which have landed but the pilots have declined to take off.

Rumors state that there is a Brussels flight on Wednesday but the news from the German embassy is that Brussels Airlines will not be flying so Bill and I have asked the Canadian travel agency to book me on Sunday, April 1st and hope that April Fool's doesn't interfere.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Finally - Day five

March 25 – Sunday

The day starts opened with the sounds of heavy trucks roaring down the streets.  Our only view of the street is blocked.

The streets become quieter but as morning turns into afternoon, there are sirens, honking in the streets and more and more noisy vehicles, roaring up and down the street past our hotel. Our small group searches for news - internet, T-V - to relieve our collective anxieties, some by re-packing luggage and re-filling water bottles, the noise seems to rise to a crescendo.  While staff come and go and everything within our little cocoon is normal, no one can avoid the pervasive sense of fear.  Then the hotel manager tells us to relax – it is Sunday and these are weddings!

Well. That is reassuring. Normalcy pervades even though there is no good news about the airport. A few people venture down the street - after all, if people are getting married, life in Bamako cannot be that dangerous - to do some grocery shopping and even find cheese and wine to accompany our spaghetti and tomato menu for the evening.

Surprise! Suddenly, the Tanzanian member of our international band receives a message that if she can get to the airport quickly, she will be able to leave.  A small aircraft has arrived for the ministerial official from East Africa.  One of our party helps her pack, a hotel staff person accompanies her to the airport to ensure her safety – and she is gone!

There are a couple of cars leaving to parts of the city which are considered safe. When they return, we learn that some have visited an international bar of sorts (very unusual was the report – lots of smoke, no dress code and loud music even in the middle of the day!) and others to a local riverbank bar (but the dust was so thick and night came on so quickly that they never got to see the river).

Bamako is on the banks of the Niger River – an unusual river that has its origin close to the Atlantic ocean in Guinea and wends its way onto the desert through Mali and Niger more than once spreading into tributaries and re-collecting itself before finally emptying into the Atlantic over an enormous delta on the South coast of Nigeria. At Bamako, early in its journey, it is already very broad, a source of fish and water for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables grown along its banks.

The pronunciation of Bamako was a source of argument in Canada: to my ears, not always the most reliable, the first syllable is emphasized, but only slightly.

A young French activist working for SURVIE in Mali tells us that the people in the street to whom she has been speaking support the coup. A small left-leaning political party is having a press conference tomorrow in support of the coup - there are dozens of political parties in the country and this particular party has only two seats in the current government. It is difficult to figure out what a coup one month before an election will accomplish, especially if the "couping" people claim to return the country to a democracy.

The hotel staff person has returned with news of a successful evacuation! Our young friend is on her way home to Tanzania.

The rest of us resolve to keep our bags packed. Perhaps, just perhaps, another of us will be so lucky.

The last activity of the day was a Skype call to Bill - so reassuring to hear his voice - but also a demonstration of how dependent we are upon having both internet and electrical services up and running simultaneously. 

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Day four from Mali

March 24

A quiet morning. The night watchman finishes his shift – mostly spent sleeping in the lobby in front of a flickering T-V – by sweeping the plaza of leaves. One by one tired fellow “prisoners” come by, stretch and wait for their coffee.

What to say about the day?

For me, consumed with back pain, it is lying down in a pain-free position. Unfortunately boredom in the bedroom isn't very good either – so as I write, I'm in the plaza on cushions, like Cleopatra being served my water, aspirins and mangoes!

The air is very dry – cargo pants washed in the bathtub will be dry in less than three hours, underwear in one. And no water drips onto the floor from hanging them! With constant sweat and evaporation, skin becomes salty and itchy.

Some of our group were invited by a local to visit his home and tried to do so, only to arrive at a road block where guns were being fired into the air. Needless to say, the enterprise ended in failure and everyone returned sufficiently chastised to stay at the hotel. An Indian colleague goes to visit a friend who lives close by and is shocked by the illness and poverty he finds – returning to wonder about “ordinary Malians”.  

The Tanzanian plane that was supposed to arrive yesterday for the government official, we learn from the minister blogspot, did not arrive.  Fortunately, the East Africans didn't try to go to the airport to wait for it.

Bored with the rather limited hotel menu, our Tanzania member and several supporters ordered a wide assortment of different vegetables. The manager says there will be no problem to fill the order because, even though the fronts of shops are closed, he knows which stores are open at the back. A take-over of the kitchen ensues for the noon meal. Feeding the Malian cooks and staff as well. A left-over fry-up does for supper.

A variety of feral cats roam the courtyard freely. One of our members started feeding a couple but was rewarded by a scratch. This is no time to risk injury of illness!

Internet and electricity being intermittent, the presence of both sends a stir around the courtyard as everyone rushes to get or send news. Probably contributing to the next failure!

Another meeting – this time our African colleagues have prepared reports of their work in Tanzania, Chad and Cameroun. For the upcoming Hiroshima IPPNW conference, we have submitted a workshop proposal – after all, the outside world won't change its deadlines just because we are stuck in Mali.

Three of us attract an audience (indicating the limited entertainment available) by playing iPad scrabble. We have made rounds of the tables asking for unique characteristics of each person – someone is celebrating two months of marriage, another is a cancer survivor, a third sings bass in a classical choir, another has shaken the hands of Ronald Reagan and Bob Marley (not simultaneously) and so on.

My toenail polish is chipping – why did I even put it on? Oh yes, to cover the blackened nail on my left great toe – which is beginning to life off. I think that I'll do something that I usually don't have time for, like pluck my eyebrows - but it would take standing up at a mirror.  Forget that. 

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Mali - day three

Day three in Mali

The bathrooms are festooned with washed clothing as our clean clothes run out. Fellow “prisoners” compare notes about medications, soaps and lotions. Do we have enough malarial prophylaxis amongst us? (I will run out on Tuesday. There are definitely mosquitoes and they definitely bite; I wonder what percentage carry the malarial parasite.)

Five am is the best time of the day. The trees echo with bird (and other?) sounds and the air is probably a perfect 25 degrees. But not for long. By seven am, the heat is rolling in and the streets are becoming noisy.

A helicopter passes by but isn't seen. The night watchman has picked up his broom and is sweeping leaves and debris from the little plaza. There were shots in the night but it is quiet now.

Late in the day a message is received by the Tanzanian woman that a government official from her country is “stuck” in Mali but will be receiving airlift out. The same plane will carry other Tanzanian nationals tomorrow morning and there is a round of speculation that perhaps they will be persuaded to take other East Africans.

A voice from home – Garth Materi of CBC Saskatchewan noon show – wakes me from my nap. Disoriented as I am it is a welcome sound, a sound of home, but I'm sorry that I didn't ask to speak to Bill. It is hard to believe that there is a place in the world where the temperature is not +35!

Again an evening meeting where participants thresh out the primary reasons we are all here. To discuss ways in which mining in Africa can be held to the same standards that it is elsewhere in the world. Those who went to Falea are driven by the memories of polluted water, high-decibel drilling and other-worldly lights at night time – all within meters of settlements! The meeting with the villagers was telling in itself - “No one has come to speak to us!” they said.

Night comes at 6:00 pm. My back hurts.