Monday, 22 July 2013


It's been a month now since we've been back from Benin, but I'm still thinking a lot about some differences between Benin and Canada, or between our lives in both places. So I thought I'd write.

Difference between Benin and Canada #1: We, as a family, are more stretched here. And sometimes in not-so-good ways.

Funny thing as a side-note: stretch was the word I chose for 2013.

In Benin, we were a unit. A travel together, sleep in close quarters, unit. We spent every day together - learning, volunteering, eating, experiencing new things, reflecting on these experiences, praying, laughing, and the occasional fight.

Here, we're like strands on a spider web, stretched so thin and so fragile, waiting to be broken.

One person is at work, while the other is trying to work from home. One child is at a friend's for a playdate (HATE that word - there's another difference between Benin and Canada - they don't use the word "playdate" - how did that word even become part of our everyday lexicon?), while the other is asking which friends are home so she can go and play. And the evenings can bring much fun and excitement, but also separation. We can so often live 4 very separate lives.

Whereas in Benin, we lived one.

Part of this is the wonderfulness of being on vacation. But I know there's another part. A sneakiness to our culture that divides so often by age, and that stretches, stretches, stretches. Options like candy allure us. The workweek stretches into the weekend. Work stretches into rest. Rest becomes work. And there is no sabbath.

Three years ago, we went to France as a family for Derek's sabbatical. We spent 4 months together - the girls went to school, and Derek worked, but we didn't feel stretched. One difference was that we had no evening commitments - no committees, no extra-curricular activities, no rushing around after school. We were so thankful for this time together - just like we were thankful for our month in Benin - to reconnect, to centre ourselves as a family and as individuals too. Why is that so hard to do here?

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Zoe writes: a letter to Deborah Ellis

On our trip we brought along a book called The Heaven Shop by Deborah Ellis. Deborah is a Canadian author who writes novels about children in other parts of the world. The novels help us to understand the children that live there.

The Heaven Shop takes place in Malawi, and the main character is a girl who becomes an orphan. It's a sad but amazing story. Her parents die from AIDS.

We read this story while we were at La Casa Grande and traveling through Benin. A lot of the things she describes about life in Malawi were so similar to the life we saw in Benin. And while we were living at the orphanage, we wondered about the stories of all of the children there, and how they compared to the story of Binti, the main character in The Heaven Shop. I really think you should read this book if you have the chance. Eden, me and my mom really loved it.

In Benin, we would often go by coffin shops, or see coffins being carried on the back of a motorcycle. That reminded us of The Heaven Shop, which was the name of Binti's father's business. He made coffins for a living.

Here is my letter that I wrote her today. I'm going to send it in the mail.

July 4, 2013

Dear Deborah Ellis,

I loved your book The Heaven Shop. It was especially meaningful reading this book in Benin, West Africa. It was easy to picture people with AIDS.

My mom, sister and I read The Heaven Shop together, but I got so anxious to find out what was going to happen next, so I read ahead. I finished the book, then started over. Then I finished the book again.

We read The Heaven Shop while we were at an orphanage. I loved this book soooooo much! I look forward to reading your other books: Parvana's Journey, I Am A Taxi, and Sacred Leaf, which I have up in my room!

Here's a bookmark for you. It has pansies on it. Pansies make me laugh because they either look like dogs or it looks like they have mustaches. I hope you like it.

Your favourite reader,

Age 9