My Friend Nassr

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Staring in 2002 I worked in the HR department of Industry Canada.  We were responsible for workforce demographic analysis and forecasting.  We produced glossy annual reports that the Deputy Minister enjoyed reading.  It was there that I met Nassr Al-Maflehi (pronounced al-maflayhee).

Nassr was a statistician by training and the heart of our little analytical group.  He was from Yemen and his mother still lived in Sanaa, the capital  He was anxious to apply his knowledge to improve employee departure forecasting based on probability theories that he had studied in the U.S.  He was anxious to raise his family who were in Ottawa and to continue his education at the post graduate level.

We spent many hours discussing statistical theory with Nassr trying to explain it all to me.  He helped everyone in our group and our clients in the same way with his kindness and eagerness to share his skills and knowledge.  He was a very positive person that everyone loved.

He was muslim as were 1 or 2 others in our group.  I had worked with Muslims before and was very impressed with their integrity, friendliness, knowledge and good nature.  Nassr asked me for a recommendation to help him get into a PhD program at Carleton.  I gladly did and I believe that he was ultimately accepted.

Another time we had a golf day at work.  He had never played before.  I remember everyone trying to coach Nassr how to swing the club.  With much perserverance, towards the end he started to hit the ball well and we were all amazed.

He invited Marie and I to dinner at his modest house.  We had a delightful time sampling the delicious foods that he and his wife had selected and prepared.  As we left that night he gave me a gift of a Yemen ceremonial dagger called a jambia.  I did not know what to do other than accept it.  To this day I have no idea if it was a precious family heirloom he gave me or a typical gift that people of Yemen exchange.  I treasure it to this day.

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Another time, his uncle from Saudi Arabia came to visit.  Nassr invited my boss and I out for dinner.  We thought this was very generous and thouroughly enjoyed the evening.  However at one point Nassr’s uncle started to insist that we come to Saudi Arabia for a visit and that he would pay for everything.  We felt uncomfortable and politely but firmly declined.

It was shortly after this that Nassr announced that he was moving to Saudi Arabia for a new job at King Saud University and to be nearer his aging mother.  We were all sad to see him go.  There was a luncheon, hugs and tears as he wished us well and we said our goodbyes.  Since than Nassr has gone on to become a professor and teaches biostatistics in the field of dentistry in Riyadh.  I am not surprised at his success.

Hopefully we will see you again Nassr.  Thanks for the wonderful memories and the important lesson that we are all brothers and sisters.

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Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume

“When she poured the perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Matt 12:12-13

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In 2013 Marie and I visited a small town just east of Marseille, FR called Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume.  Our purpose was to explore the grotto of Mary Magdalene.

The little town was transformed by the well-published discovery, 12 December 1279, in the crypt of Saint-Maximin, of a sarcophagus that was proclaimed to be the tomb of Mary Magdalene and by the ensuing pilgrim-drawing cult of Mary Magdalene and St Maximin.

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The legend goes that after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, her brother Lazarus and Maximin, (one of the seventy disciples mentioned in Luke 10: 1-24) left the Holy Land by boat to escape persecution.  They landed at Saintes-Maries-de-la Mer further west near Arles, FR.  Mary Magdalene went to Marseille to convert the local people and then retired to a cave in the St. Baume mountains.  She was buried in St. Maximin where her relics are reputed to be.  (Other reputed resting places for her relics are in Vezelay, FR and Ephesus, TR.)

We hiked up a steep path and made our way into an underground grotto buried in the mountain.  There was an altar, statues and water dripping down.  If this is where Mary Magdalene finished her life it was certainly not very fancy.

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The panoramic view from the top of the mountain was breathtaking.  We slowly returned down the path stopping to chat with a friend along the way.

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We retired to Saint-Maries-de-la-Mer for dinner and caught the Fête Votive Camargue parade going right by our table.  We felt very nourished by the history, beauty and reverence of this pilgrimage outing.  France is a gorgeous place to visit anytime.  For the detailed account of the Marys that came here and how the story has changed over the years, click here.

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Missionary Methods

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It is interesting to revisit methods used by Christian missionaries in the 19th and early 20th centuries as they spread the good news message of  Jesus Christ to indigenous peoples.
Here we are not pointing out abuse scandals that have been exposed for example in the Canadian Residential School program.  Rather, about cultural and colonial superiority and absence of respect for local religious traditions that were evident in the way the Christian faith was propagated in this era.
Lesotho is a landlocked ‎kingdom encircled by South Africa. In the 19th century it was besieged by and welcomed Protestant and Catholic missionaries. One of the Catholic missionaries was Blessed Joseph Gerard, OMI (Oblate of Mary Immaculate). He sought to save the souls of the indigenous Basotho people by using the techniques of the day.
Today we talk about enculturation – adapting the message, rules and practices of Christianity so a local culture can see parallels with their own beliefs.  ‎This can work surprisingly well as the recent Book of Mormon play so aptly taught us.
In a candid and frank assessment, Fr. Bernhard Albers, OMI tells the story of Blessed Joseph Garrard’s strengths and weaknesses in his missionary work in Lesotho.  This article made me both laugh and cry.  It also reinforced for me that something really is happening here – the very successful work of the Holy Spirit.
A great read here‎.

 

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Kyle and Ashley’s Wedding

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Our son Kyle married Ashley Griefenhagen in a beautiful ceremony in Winnipeg on May 20.  Ashley comes from a loving family.  We felt so proud of our son and his new bride.  Tears of joy and happiness filled our eyes.  We still can hardly believe our son is married.

Our grandsons Jackson and Wyatt stole everyone’s heart as they proceeded Ashley and her dad up the aisle.  Kyle waited patiently and the groomsmen and bride’s maids were ready.  And then came Ashley with her dad Rick.

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Jackson (left) and Wyatt

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Minister Brad Warkinton did a great job as did son-in-law Tim with the camera (more pics to come.)  Kyle and Ashley made it through very touching personal vows and the rings were exchanged.  It was a blessed affair that we will cherish for many years to come.  Our thanks to all who made this day a great success.

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Ashley and Kyle organized the whole affair including a fabulous roast beef dinner, dancing to the great DJ’s non-stop music and enlivened by generous quantities of wine and beer.  Safe to say everyone had a great time!

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With Ashely’s mother Tina who hails from Steinbach, MB

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With Ashley’s dad Rick whose parents hail from Germany

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“It was a teenage wedding and the old folks wished them well…”

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Brother-in-law Jack, Marie’s sister Christina and brother Rick

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Michelle (left) and Dave’s sister Kim

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With son-in-law Tim and nephew Nick at head table

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Congratulations Kyle!

You did it Kyle and Ashley!  We love you!  Bon voyage.

 

 

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Genealogy for Dummies

I have gradually become more interested in genealogy.  It started a few years back when a cousin on my dad’s side sent me the family genealogy (gedcom) file with over 5000 individuals and data that she had sourced.  Sadly she has passed now but I am very grateful for her research.

I signed up in Wikitree (it’s free) and started adding family member profiles and linking them manually to build my family tree.  I had access to my mother’s files and photos which helped on her side.  I split the (too) large Morgan file to include only the Morgans and their spouses data and uploaded this info to Wikitree.

Here is what I have so far:

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And even farther back on the Morgan side:

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I also uploaded the large file to myheritage.ca and use their tree builder app to explore the family tree data my cousin sent me.  I am still at the free level which limits the research sources I have access to.

I find it fascinating to see the names of direct ancestors going back in time simply identified by date of birth, marriage, kids, death.  Like, did anything else happen? What more is in a life anyway?  Makes me feel connected.  In 200 years will someone ponder over my data in a similar way?

I would like to go even farther back and fill in the gaps.  There is conflicting data whether John Morgan (b 1750) was actually born in the U.S. or came over from Wales.  Any advice or comments from you genealogists out there on how to proceed would be much appreciated.  I guess my next move is to read the manual.

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Cheers,

Dave

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Celebrating Life

Went to my parents grave site the other day. The occasion was‎ the celebration of life in the chapel of a childhood acquaintance who had just passed away. It was good to pay a visit.

I found the grave stone intact and added some flowers and took a photo. I noticed their site‎ was in relatively good shape. Some others had the stone tipping over a bit or the lettering was faded. I contrasted this with the glorious condition of grave sites we saw all across Poland last year.

After this visit I found the grave site of my step father and his first wife nearby and spruced it up a bit too. I‎t felt good to be doing this little duty.

I then went to the Celebration of Life for Craig. I first met him in grade school. He was a tall tough guy then who chased me out of the school yard on the last day of school in 1964 or so.

Craig went on the be a larger than life personality. He was a dreamer who achieved his dreams: founding a unisex hair studio (the first ever in Ottawa); living in the Bahamas on his yacht and then operating a large horse riding farm‎ in the Gatineau. He loved life, his family and the hundreds of friends he collected along the way. We loved him back.

There was a lot of humour‎, memories, wild stories and love expressed. One of the speakers pulled a great prank. While he was speaking, he says excuse me my cell phone is buzzing. He answers the phone in front of us and says “Oh hi Craig, I’m kind of busy right now. OK yeah, I won’t tell that story…fine Craig…thanks see ya soon.”

For a moment we all wondered has Craig staged this whole thing including his death as a prank? Never let the kid in you die‎ was his motto. It was a great celebration and seeing my childhood friends. Thanks for the memories Craig. Never let the kid in you die!

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HAL Panama Canal – Day 10-11 Sea Days

(You will happy to know this is our last posting about this cruise. We are safely home now and thank God for all the treasures he gave us this winter.)

We are on the journey back to Ft Lauderdale. This is gala dinner night – lobster tail and filet mignon. We sit with 3 American couples and a mother and daughter from the UK.
The dinner is wonderful‎ and the conversation flows.

It has been a great cruise. We liked:
– the overall quality and tastiness of the food
– the relaxed pace
– the itinerary
– the daily Catholic Mass and priest on board
– the lack of pretentiousness of the guests
– the good natured hard working staff
– our large oceanview room with the king bed
– our cabin steward Agus and his assistant

We did not like as much (most of these are minor points):
– the alt-country music they blared around the pools
– the short time frames scheduled for live music
– lack of techiness on the ship’s displays (no distances, temperatures or access to your on board account)
– the ship did not cruise Lake Gatun as advertised but rather anchored all day; you had to pay to be tendered off on an excursion‎ (not minor)
– the small size of staff name tags making it hard to get to know them by name
– tardy service during some busy times‎ e.g., happy hour
– could not hear announcements clearly due to inadequate placement of speakers and background noise (not minor)

Favorite site: Panama Canal

Favorite ports:
– Aruba
– Cartagena
– Puerto Limon

Least favorite port:
– Colon‎ (a rough place)

We did not go on any organized excursions. We have done many before and don’t enjoy being herded if we can avoid it. We usually do our own thing in port. ‎We do wish we had gone on the optional small boat excursion through the rest of the Canal.

Would we cruise Holland America again? – probably.

Overall value: ‎8/10

Next up: Celebrity Silhouette in Nov, God willing.

….
We are on the road home now. Thanks for sticking with us this winter! Happy Spring and talk to you again when we get home‎.

Happy Easter!

XOX
‎Dave and Marie

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HAL Panama Canal – Day 9 – Puerto Limon

Costa Rica looks like a relaxed place as we dock. There are big breakers on the shoreline even though it is a calm day. As we are getting ready for breakfast, the Oceania Regatta pulls in. This is the ship we took to Barcelona in 2010. ‘O’ is a premium line.‎ Later on the Celebrity Detox, oops I mean the Equinox, arrives too.

We wonder off the ship into the tourist market. There are lots of colourful things for sale. There is also very good coffee. We walk through Vargas park and admire the tall palms. We see the huge waves breaking on the rocky shore.

We walk down the teeming streets and rest a moment in the Limon Cathedral. It is a modern design with a tall mitre like tower outside that was built after an earthquake destroyed the old building in 1999. We are in earthquake country.

We stop at a small India store and chat with the owner. He like everyone here is friendly and happy. We continue to the central mercado and stop for an expresso. The owner here is very welcoming and friendly. I buy some shoes in a store from a young man who speaks very good english.

We pick up some coffee and tee shirts in the tourist market and chat with a happy lady. I ask her if everyone is happy here and she says yes, look at the paradise we are living in. She admits some people though are not always so. This is true everywhere I agree.

As we get back on board, 2 locals are playing a wooden looking xylophone. Marie poses with them for a parting picture. Everyone smiles.

We meet a couple from Stewart, FL at dinner. There are no whitecaps but the ship rolls on the big swells all night long This is cruising. Ciau for now.

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HAL Panama Canal – Day 8 – Panama Canal

We are up at 6 AM to see our grand entrance. They open up the bow of the ship. There are 200+ guests munching Panama buns with their morning coffee. There are 25+ freighters at anchor as the sun rises in the mist. We approach the breakwater slowly.‎ Ahead of us is a freighter and strangely enough, a sail boat. We pass a port with another 25 freighters at anchor. This is Colon I believe where we will dock on our way back. We are clearly on one of the world’s backbones of trade.

We enter the Gatun (pronounced gatoon) locks and are impressed. There are little electric locomotives‎ that attach cables and pull the ship. We go through 2 locks which takes us up 85 ft above sea level to Gatun Lake. We pass a stand of Jacaranda (pronounced hacarand) trees with yellow and purple blooms. Butterflies flit across the deck. Everyone waves as a big freighter goes by in the other direction.

These are “the old” locks opened in 1914. They are 110′ W x 1000′ L twin channels. There are also new wider locks that cost 5$B+ and were completed last year. They are 180′ W x 1400′ long but single channel only. More than a million ships have traversed the 80 km between the 2 oceans. ‎It takes us less than 2 hours to go through to Gatun lake. Very, very impressive. The history not so much. Thousands of workers died due to yellow fever and thousands of locals were forced from their land when they created Gatun Lake. However everyone is happy that there are no mosquitos anymore!

We spend a lazy afternoon on the promenade deck. We dream about a Pacific cruise someday. The ship is soon reversing it’s course back through the locks.‎ We get off at Colon 2 hours later. We walk to the duty free Zone but most stores have closed and the area is not pleasant. We stop for some beer – Balboa – and it tastes great. The outdoor cafe is packed and everyone is talking and laughing. Panama is a very interesting place but not your cozy tourist destination we observe.

Back on board we put our feet up and marvel at having had another great day on this great cruise.

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HAL Panama Canal – Day 7 – Cartagena

We pull into Cartagena as the sun rises out of the mist. I am struck by the beauty of the white skyscrapers reminiscent of Santos in Brazil. We have only 6 hrs in port so we have to hustle a bit‎ today. We wander off the ship and see a lot of parrots, flamingos, monkeys and peacocks in the little tourist garden. Continuing outside we are met by a barrage of tour guides selling their services.

A well dressed man in a Panama hat ‎grabs us and says he will give us a city tour. We only want to go to the old city so he drops the price. He flags a cab and we all hop in. Our guide is Gino and our driver is William. He offers us a 3 hr tour and he is so nice, we accept. We stop at an old Fort, then in front of a big fortress. There are dozens of vendors hawking tee shirts, hats, cigars, jewellry – but if you politely say no thanks, they say OK. Still, it is distracting.

Gino lived in Manhattan for 3 years and speaks good English. He is 70, goes out dancing with his wife every Saturday night, church on Sunday and knows his history. He handles all our questions. We drive by the beach in the new city and Gino points out a house the Clintons own. Apparently they like to come here to dance too. We stop at an emerald jewellry factory and Marie makes a purchase. Then in the old walled city we walk around among narrow bacloneyed streets. Many people greet Gino and some say he is the mayor.

We look into the St Peter Claver Catholic church. There is a statue of St Peter talking with a native woman outside. St Peter was a Jesuit who would go down to the docks and comfort slaves who were arriving from Africa. Cartagena das Indias means Cartagena of the Indians (natives who eventually won freedom back from Spain). ‎Gino says the government recently negotiated a truce to end the drug wars, but politicians here are very corrupt. This is South America. America seems to be following its leed we think. Gino says his church took up a collection for medicine donations to Venezuela. These are good people.

We’ve had enough of the heat – 47 deg C real feel! Wilhelm takes us back and we all part. We highly recommend Gino and Wilhelm. However, the crowds, the traffic and the heat reminds us why we don’t enjoy big cities as much anymore. Ciau!

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