An update - and Vancouver 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hi everyone!

It’s been several weeks since my last blog post and I know I’ve left many of you who were getting used to my regular posts in the lurch, unable to access my thoughts (worth much more than a penny apiece I would say). My excuse for this would be that it’s been busy – but that hasn’t stopped all the other BBers from posting so I’m I know that’s not going to cut it. However I hope to fill you all in with what’s been going on for me since then:

-For Reading Week I visited some family in Vancouver. It was not at all coincidental that the Olympics were going on at the same time, and that was why I thoughts on the Olympics will come later on in this post.

-My fundraising has been a huge success. Due for the most part to the many generous donations that I received from friends and family, I’m now less than $150 away from my fundraising target of $2000!

-Our group fundraising received a huge boost through two successful events that we held:

1.Music with a Mission @ Bomber band night (held on Saturday, March 13) – we raised several hundred dollars from our Band Night at Bomber, our campus bar, where three excellent bands (Stonefox, Junka and IVS) wowed our guests with their musical abilities. We were able to keep our proceeds almost all of our proceeds due to funding from the Federation of Students and the Arts Endowment Fund.

2.Yard Sale / Pancake Breakfast (held on Sunday, March 21) – we raised another several hundred dollars from our event held at St. Jerome’s, where we received incredible support from the University Catholic Community. Members of the congregation donated many items that we were able to sell, and wolfed down our pancakes after mass.

-I began volunteering at St. John’s Kitchen in Kitchener, where many other BBers have gone for their volunteering as well...more details on volunteering to come in later posts.

-I’ve started getting things together for my placement this summer – for example, yesterday I got first round of shots that I will need to take to become immunized against a plethora of disease I most certainly do NOT want to fall ill with this summer (yellow fever, hepatitis A, rabies, etc).

-I’ve hit the home stretch of 4th-year engineering with many final projects coming together, including a design project presentation which we finished just this afternoon.

I hope that brings you all up to speed a bit. However, I’d like to bring you all back to my experience at the Winter Olympics, and how I think it relates to Beyond Borders. I started this post a while ago, when the Olympics were still fresh on my mind – and the rest of the country’s as well – but I got stuck and I wasn’t quite sure how to express my thoughts on the matter. Now I’m going to take another stab at it.

The Olympics

As anyone who was there will probably tell you, being in Vancouver for the Olympics was a fantastic experience, and for me it was a really nice change of pace from the craziness of this term. Just walking around downtown Vancouver was an experience enough in itself - the energy in the city was incredible, with streets blocked and people walking everywhere, wearing red and waving Canada flags and generally acting friendly and patriotic. I was also able to land some tickets to hockey, curling and speed skating, which were definitely worth the two-hour wait in a seemingly endless line downtown. At my last event, the women’s 1000m long-track speed skating, I even saw a Canadian (Christine Nesbitt) win a gold medal with an incredibly hard-fought skate.

Despite the incredible experience of being at the Winter Olympics, I couldn’t help but have a few thoughts that made me a little uneasy with the state of things...I guess Beyond Borders has that effect on you. The Olympics, in all their glory, also made me think of some things that really indicate a lot about our world and some of the problems that we’re facing. So here goes.

The Good

I’ll start with the good...and there was a lot of good. As I mentioned before, the energy of the city was incredible, and there was a really friendly, “good, clean fun” aspect to it that isn’t always there in large crowds. I’ve been to European soccer games, American football games, and there was a different feeling there altogether – although it’s worth keeping in mind that the soccer and football fans tend to be self-selecting as generally obnoxious, drunken, young, and mostly men. Still, the crowds in Vancouver were SO far removed from this that I was shocked – in a good way of course.

In my humble opinion, I think the good-natured crowds were a result of a happy confluence – the fact that they were made up of people who were A. mostly Canadians and B. at the Olympics. There’s something to be said that even at their loudly drunkest (i.e. nights after big wins by the Canadian hockey team), the RCMP officers working crowd control downtown were bored (those being the words of a friend of my cousin’s that I met, an RCMP officer, describing what her colleagues had been telling her). I truly do believe that there is something in Canadian culture that encourages this good behaviour in the midst of celebration.

I also believe that there was a discernible “Olympic effect” that was seen not only in the crowds celebrating downtown, but throughout the entire city for as long as the Olympics were there. More than any other sporting event, the Olympics focuses not only on who is the best, but the gutsy and brave performances of athletes who do not necessarily end up on the podium. This is reflected in the philosophy of Pierre de Coubertin, the Frenchman who founded the modern Olympics in 1896:

“The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

This spirit is manifested in many aspects of the Olympics – such as the Paralympic Games and the Terry Fox Award (created for the Vancouver Olympics) to honour Olympians who touched the world with courage, humility and extraordinary athletic abilities. Who can forget Joannie Rochette, skating days after her mother unexpectedly died, doing it in her honour? Or Petra Majdic, the Slovenian who competed in the 1.4 km women’s classic sprint in incredible pain from a collapsed lung? (Apparently, a new saying in Slovenia is “When Chuck Norris can’t go on, Petra Majdic perseveres!” haha). For me, it’s the power of humanity in people like Joannie Rochette, Petra Majdic and the Paralympians that make the Olympics truly great.

The Bad (Uncomfortable)

For some reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to say “Bad”, but there were some things that made me uncomfortable. I’m sure many of you have heard some of the criticisms that were given in the weeks leading up to the Olympics about poor and homeless people being displaced for the Athlete’s Village, and I would have to say those criticisms seemed to be justified. I’ve been to Vancouver before, and never have homeless people been less noticeable. I’m not going to talk about it too much though, because it’s probably something you heard about before.

What made me uncomfortable relates a little more deeply to the Canadian psyche, and I’m sure many of you have heard about it, and probably considered it yourself as well. Generally, it has to do with the fact that Canadians aren’t generally known to be nationalistic or patriotic, and there was an “awakening” during the Olympics that hadn’t been seen before. I think there’s something too this.

When I was in Vancouver, Canada wasn’t really winning as many medals as had been hoped for, and the “Own the Podium” campaign had seemingly embarrassed itself. However, the early winners (such as Alexandre Bilodeau, who won the moguls gold medal) were absolutely showered with attention. There was some focus on the other athletes who were giving gutsy performances, but they never got the same attention...well, except for Christine Nesbitt (the speed skater whose victory I saw) – but I think that was mostly because she was gutsy AND she won.

I know many of you might be saying, “what’s new about this?” and to be honest, I really shouldn’t have been surprised...I’m not sure, maybe I held Canadians to different standards. What changed for me was the fact that during the second week of the games, when Canada won the most gold medals, ending up with more than any other country in history in the Winter Olympics, gold seemed to become the only thing that we cared about as a country...and the more human side of things, the one espoused by Pierre de Coubertin, seemed to be forgotten, or at times, given only lip service.

How does this relate to Beyond Borders? I think it has to do with winning and losing. I am (relatively) proud to live in a country where the welfare of others seems to be (relatively) important, this of course relative to other developed countries who have won in the competition for resources and wealth. While we still have a long ways to go, I truly do believe that Canadians as a people care about more than themselves – a position that I feel is supported by the support we have for universal health care (not perfect of course, but where everyone is covered) and the interest many people take what is going on poorer communities, be they in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside, or in the developing world.

Based on the focus on winning, and gold medals...I’m a bit worried that Canadians may have let go of this aspect of themselves. Hopefully I’m wrong – in the several weeks since the end of the Olympics, the general hysteria has died down, and Canadians have taken the opportunity to prove themselves generous in their support for victims of the recent earthquake in Chile. What effect did Vancouver 2010 have on the country? I guess only time will tell.