Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Georgetown at night

One evening, I instead of going to the gym, I decided to take a walk along the Sea Wall, which traces the coast. Parts of Guyana are below sea level at times, but their former Dutch colonialists didn’t let that stop them, building a long dyke along the seashore. I was admiring the view of the ocean and taking pictures when I realized that what I thought had been a pile of rubbish under a palm tree was in fact a small body huddled under a plastic warp, with only a foot sticking out, apparently sleeping.

I’m here during the beginning of the rainy season, so often the rain gushes down from the sky as though someone has turned on a faucet, and after a few minutes stops just as suddenly. One night I was woken from my sleep from those sounds, the skies pouring so heavily they sounded like a constant roar rather than the pitter-patter I was used to.

I thought about that person sleeping under the plastic on the beach, and the other people I had seen sleeping on the dusty roads, who would all be caught in the rain now, and I felt sad. I keep running into this one man wandering about town. He had no shirt or shoes, and all he had to wear was some kind of blanket wrapped around his waist like a makeshift skirt.

North Americans tend to think of the Caribbean as a paradise of turquoise oceans and sandy beaches upon which we can lounge with our umbrella drinks. In reality though, these Caribbean lands are real societies with real people and businesses and governments. The country still has to be run. They also have real problems. My work there had me spending time looking at the other side of Caribbean life, attending courts, businesses, libraries, charities, listening to stories that emerged about crime and violence and resource shortages and infrastructural issues. The poverty that I witnessed just walking down the streets were difficult to ignore. Rundown shacks built out of corrugated tin, young homeless people, bone-thin stray dogs.

Guyana Legal Aid Clinic

public service announcement on TV about a local shelter (the only women's shelter in the country)

Despite the cheery photos of palm trees and poolside drinks that I post on Instagram, the truth is, Georgetown can be a dangerous place. The newspaper seems to report on violent crimes every day. People here have guns. Just yesterday a burglar was shot in the face while breaking into a store. There was a prison riot a little while ago, resulting in a fire that killed over a dozen prisoners. Everyone has a personal story about someone close dealing with domestic abuse. Our hotel is guarded by a security officer at the front, and two of them at night, with a heavy iron gate that bars the entrance. Even some of the stores have iron gates that you have to get past to go shopping. I do not walk around outside after dark, even if the place I want to go to is very close. I don’t post these pictures on Instagram.

Still, at night the streets seemed to be filled with parties. I can hear the sounds from my hotel room, and sometimes I’m not sure if someone is playing shouty music from their car or if there’s a fight going on outside. Perhaps this makes me an old person.

Okay, so, we need to talk about food in Guyana.

Thank goodness Bettencourt restaurant staff have been sneaking things like carrots into my blended fruit juices at breakfast, otherwise I really would not have eaten any veggies on this whole trip. The travel nurse had told me to avoid salads, and I basically used that as an excuse to avoid all vegetables. It’s not that I have anything against Guyana’s vegetables, but really, I’m just *that* into Guyana’s amazingly fresh fruit and yummy chicken dishes.

The guidebook tends to complain about restaurants lacking in ambience. I can’t help but wonder if “ambience” in such contexts mean that these places don’t meet pre-conceived western notions. At any rate, the places I tried weren’t lacking in anything.

Especially if your thing is neon palm trees

Ambience! All over the place! (Pegasus Hotel)

I had a lovely relaxed dinner at the Duke Lodge, watching the sun go down between the palm trees by the swimming pool. It was a bit eerie to be the only patron at the restaurant for the night, but it made for wonderful service, unhurried, polite, attentive. It was a stark contrast to my experience at the Oasis Café, where I was sitting at a table waiting to meet someone, and a horde of young schoolboys descended on the café and filled all the tables, including mine, to watch the football game.
The Oasis Cafe, right before a swarm of schoolchildren descended on me

Duke Lodge

Poolside bar

Curry! More curry!

The only restaurant patron, and therefore the best restaurant patron

On the other end of the dining scale, I had lunch at House of Flavours, a small Rastafarian hole-in-the-wall joint that doubled as a reggae music store. They only served one dish, a delicious ital dish of rice, beans, veggies, seasoned with mango achar, served in a gourd, all for less than two dollars. They also gave me freshly squeezed mango and pineapple juice. They showed war movies on a small TV on top of the fridge while restaurant patrons ate. I could easily eat here every day.

Jerk chicken yessss

Eventually it was time for me to go home, and face the fact that I was going to have to start eating vegetables like kale again. Good-bye American Netflix. I had in my head a list of activities that I wanted to do the next time I came back to Guyana later this year.

On my flight home, nobody vomited, at least as far as I could hear. I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the sound for the in-flight movie, so I watched half of Concussion by making up my own lines for the actors through lip-reading. The flight attendants served us a hot meal of Indian chicken on rice. As we prepared to land, the pilot announced that Toronto was not too bad, about ten degrees Celsius.

“That’s bad,” said the Guyanese ladies next to me, shivering.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Chinese in the Caribbean

I was told there was a small Chinese population in Guyana but I didn’t run into any for a long time. There weren’t even very many white people that I saw. Instead, amidst the sea of Afro and Indo-Guyanese faces, I stood out painfully and this fact followed me wherever I went. It didn’t help that I had probably the whitest skin in the country, having just come out of a Canadian winter. Whenever I walked around, men would call out to me “China!” or “Chinese girl!” or sometimes “Hey beautiful!” (no matter what - even when I wore baggy sweatpants and a t-shirt and had an acne breakout).

This public attention to my race made me uncomfortable. As a Canadian, this would be considered street harassment and in Canada, it is incredibly rude to greet someone by pointing out that their race. Not to mention, of course, the fact that I’m not Chinese. But this kind of behaviour persists all over the world, except, oddly enough, in Korea where Koreans assume from my lack of Korean fashion sense that I am Chinese.

But I eventually got used to this treatment, taking it as their way of being friendly. The one comment that threw me off-guard was a mechanic, who called out to me “hey China! Como estas, mi amor?” I was taken aback; I had not seen anyone speaking Spanish here at all. I wasn’t sure if maybe he was Spanish or he thought Chinese people spoke Spanish.

True to my style though, I did eventually find the Asians in Guyana. I came across a regular-looking grocery store and went in to buy some beer and maxipads. While I scanned the liquor shelves, I heard the store clerks chattering behind me, and I thought, wow, I really can’t understand what they’re saying. For some reason, Creole sounds an awful like Chinese. When I turned around, it turned out that the store clerks were Chinese. It appeared that this grocery store was owned by a Chinese family.

I wandered to the second level of the grocery store and discovered an entire floor of Chinese imports. Interestingly, and perhaps stereotypically, I was flooded with immediate relief. Here was the soya sauce and the sesame oil. Fish sauce and oyster sauce. Rice. Now I knew where I could go if I wanted to make some bibimbap. When I lived in Namibia, I had even managed to find a hook-up to order tofu, which seemed to be a more complicated process than even buying drugs. Perhaps I could do it here too. This Georgetown store seemed to have everything, including shampoo and Chinese Colgate toothpaste…because God forbid you have to brush your teeth using toothpaste with English packaging?

Oddly enough, constantly being greeted as “Chinese girl” – and being a little homesick - made me crave Chinese food. As one of the “six nations” that form Guyana, the old and established Chinese population in Guyana means that the country has developed its own regional variety of Chinese cuisine. I asked a few different drivers and hotel staff what restaurant had the best Chinese food (there were a surprisingly number of Chinese restaurants), and they all unanimously suggested New Thriving.

New Thriving Restaurant

It was a big place, with a fast food takeout area on the lower level and a more formal banquet-y sit-down area on the top floor, as well as a little Chinese bakery on the side selling Asian pastries. I thought perhaps here I might blend in a bit more, but the patrons were mostly Indo-Guyanese, with very few Chinese families. The Chinese owner greeted me warmly and I ordered the chili bean curd (or bean “crud” according to the menu), which I thought would be ma po tofu, but turned out to be its own thing. The meal was delicious, and I left feeling better. I thought about the indentured Chinese workers who came here almost two hundred years ago, working long hours for very little pay, and thought about how homesick they must have been, being so far away from home. They figured out how to make it work, and now are a part of Guyanese society. I felt a little less homesick with a belly full of tofu and a bit of historical perspective. Now, I just had to find a tofu dealer.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Caribbean Life: First Impressions of Georgetown

Canals flowing through Georgetown

I was interested in Guyana for its lack of population density, but Georgetown is no small town. Sure, the capital city only has a population of roughly 135,000, and it’s refreshingly free of skyscrapers, but it still has the hustle and bustle feel of a city. The streets are crowded with pedestrians navigating their way around motorbikes and cabs and minibuses whose horns play La Cucuracha for some reason when they honk. There are street vendors everywhere, selling fruits, sneakers and DVDs on the side walk, or pushing a cart down the street.

Okay, so the streets don't look so busy this precise moment, but I'm telling you, it gets hectic

I never really figured out how to get around without being run over. A lot of the streets don’t have sidewalks, so you kind of have to walk down the shoulder of the roads, but sometimes those are used as car lanes too. Some intersections don’t have street lights or stop signs, yet drivers still manage to figure out how to take turns driving through. I haven’t figured out the system. I haven’t even figured out which side of the road I should be walking down – I’m still not used to the fact that cars drive on the left side of the road. Eventually I adopted the strategy of waiting at an intersection until a local person also had to cross the street, and then following closely behind them. One morning, I was almost hit by a horse pulling a cart.

St. George's Anglican Cathedral - the tallest wooden church in the world

With respect to physical geography, Guyana is a world of constants, at least compared to the moody seasonal extremes of Canada, especially in the Arctic where I used to live. The sun rises and sets at roughly the same time every day. It always seems to be around 27 degrees.

Promenade Gardens

I call this the Peacock Tree...or Treecock
Promenade Gardens
The one variation is the rain. I had come at the beginning of the rainy season, so it rained a little bit every morning. Later in the season, sometimes it will get so bad it floods. Generally though, I found I didn’t need to bother checking the weather forecast or the sunset times to figure out when I should head home.

Guyana is also a pastiche of multicultural influences. Bollywood music and dance hall. Chow mein, jerk chicken, and msala curry all on one menu, all with their own Guyanese twist. This flows from the history of the country which has come in contact with many nations. The Amerindians were here first for many centuries, but, like the rest of the Americas, European colonies were eventually set up. The French, the Dutch, and the British all fought for control of the country, with the British eventually remaining until Guyana’s independence in 1966. Over the centuries, slaves were brought in from Africa, and after slavery was eventually abolished, indentured labourers were then brought in from places like India, Portugal, and China. All of these places left their mark on Guyana’s culture, and people sometimes refer to the country as the land of six nations.

The entire city has been busily preparing itself for the 50th anniversary of Guyana’s independence. Construction crews are all over the roads making repairs to their infrastructure. It seemed like all of Guyana’s diaspora will be returning from abroad for the celebration, and the country has been getting ready to welcome their loved ones home. This is a big deal – someone once told me that while less than a million people live in Guyana, over two and a half million Guyanese people live outside of Guyana, mostly in Canada and the United States. That’s a huge diaspora.

Georgetown has a series of canals and streams to help drain water during flooding season (a design that I imagine are an influence of the Dutch). Folks tell me that the infrastructure has vastly improved in the last year alone since the new government came in. The canals are properly draining, houses are being painted, roads are being fixed. I was pleased to be able to see Georgetown on the upswing, but disappointed that I was going to be missing the independence activities festivities.

The hotel clerk even told me that he was participating in a fitness program called Fit for Fifty – getting nice and buff in time for the anniversary, I assume so everyone can see how hot one has gotten since they were away. He kindly invited me to join but my last experience at the local gym told me I probably needed to put in a few more sweaty sessions on my own before other people can witness how out of shape I am.

Trying out the local gym, BodyMaxx

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Sleepless Nights with Barf Man

I didn’t get any sleep on my overnight flight to Guyana. That’s because the man in the seat behind me seemed to be nauseous, and vomited the entire night. It was pretty gross, actually, to the point where it almost became humourous. So. Much. Vomiting. At one point, the other passengers down the plane aisle took up a collection of barf bags to pass back to him, because he very quickly ran out of supplies. I think that really reflects the caring, compassionate spirit of Caribbean Airlines passengers. Everyone was very supportive, including his girlfriend who was right by his side the whole time, cuddling with him between barfs. But still gross. Because for some reason, after he’d vomit, he’d go back to his turkey sandwich. And then vomit again. Then more turkey sandwich. I wanted to tell him, buddy, stop.

I gave up on sleep and silently ate my own turkey sandwich, generously provided by Caribbean Airlines, which had packaging that encouraged me to relax and enjoy life because life is meant to be enjoyed.

I don’t like planes. I like to travel to faraway places so I can lose myself in the wilderness, and planes are the opposite of that, where you are surrounded by lots and lots of people uncomfortably packt like sardines in a crushd tin box. (Literally every time I fly on an airplane, I picture the Radiohead song.) Imagine a non-transit situation where you would be crammed in such a small place with this many people and expected to spend the night sleeping upright in a chair next to a total stranger. A stranger who keeps vomiting.

There was also, as there always is, a crying baby, but it was actually much less disturbing than Barf Man.

The flight didn’t even have any turbulence, so Barf Man should definitely avoid ever flying in Nunavut. I have ridden terrible turbulence, so bad that I held the hand of the crying woman sitting next to me as the pilot shakily explained that we were going to “try to land” once more in the middle of the storm, but just once more, and thought to myself “Well, here is how it’s all going to end, me in this crushd tin box in the arms of a praying woman that I don’t know very well.” Which is kind of weird when I think about it now, because my husband was sitting right next to me in the other seat. But anyway, I held down my lunch, even though we got tossed around like popcorn. But on this particular remarkably smooth flight, Barf Man did not.

So anyway, I didn’t get much sleep on the plane.

I also thought I’d be a lot more excited about my layover in Trinidad, because, hello, Trinidad. It's Trindad! But Trinidad is not as exciting at four-thirty in the morning when most things at the airport are shut down, and the only bathroom in the secured section you’re in is under renovations. This could have been really disastrous for Barf Man, but I'm pretty sure he had nothing left in his stomach and, also, evidently he never seemed very concerned about hiding in a bathroom to barf. But I’ve really got to give credit to the Ministry of Tourism representative that was going around finding out who was in transit and who was a tourist in Trinidad, presumably to give them a warm welcome? At four-thirty in the morning. Now that is dedication.

I made a note to myself to visit Trinidad on a better day.

Once I finally arrived in Guyana (along with Barf Man, who followed and barfed the whole way through), we were greeted with our own warm welcome, palm trees by the entrance, and a musician with dreadlocks played steel drums while we waited in line for immigration. At 7:30 in the morning. They always said that Caribbean folks are friendly, but now I truly believe it. Can you imagine the CBSA hiring a Tragically Hip cover band to play at the Pearson Airport while they sternly interrogate travellers about what goods they have to declare?

I was picked up by my friendly driver, who took one pitying look at my rapidly-forming sweat mustache and promised he would crank up the air conditioning in the car. I tried to hop into the car, only to realize – for the first time - that the driver’s seat was on the other side, and people drive on left side of the road here. Somehow I had missed all that, with all my research. Or maybe I did know that, but in my Barf Man sleep-deprived state, I forgot.

The driver told me all about Guyana as he drove me into Georgetown. Guyana is located in South America, but culturally considered to be Caribbean. It is also, to my disappointment, one of the only Caribbean countries that don’t have any oceanfront beaches. It does have fine white sand but the water is black, not turquoise, from the soil. It may lack stereotypical Caribbean beaches, but it does have one of the largest unspoiled rainforest in South America. Particularly of interest to me, it is in the top 10 or so of the world’s most sparsely populated countries with less than a million people spread out over a land area about the size of Kansas. In case you haven’t been able to tell from the time I’ve spent with this travel blog, in places like Namibia, Nunavut, and, well, Canada generally…lots of land and not a lot of people is kind of my jam.

In fact, a lot of the country is untouched. The guidebook describes Guyana (not to be confused by Ghana, Guinea, or French Guiana) as “South America’s little-known curiosity that lies far off the well-trodden tourist path.” Read between the lines and it means it’s not over-run with trust fund hippies backpacking their way from hostel to hostel, or loud obnoxious tourists demanding to know where the nearest McDonalds is (there isn’t one). It doesn’t have all-inclusive Caribbean resorts (maybe due to the lack of sandy turquoise ocean beaches). It tends to attract nature lovers, hard-core hikers, adventurous thrill-seekers, folks who don’t mind finding their own way. And, um, me, standing uncomfortably close to the equator and realizing that I am still acclimatized to the Arctic.
My hotel was a cute little place whose website had listed hotel amenities like “Windows Open” and “Interior Corridors”, but not, oddly enough, their free WiFi which was the thing I enjoyed the most. That and their absolutely lovely friendly staff – despite the fact that Guyana is not necessarily a major tourist destination, comparatively speaking, the Guyanese truly know how to be hospitable.

Also, my hotel room had air conditioning. I never did figure out how to open the windows, but the air conditioning probably saved my life. I don’t actually like air conditioning that much, but it was better than being hot, as I was still not used to the humid heat. It kept me cool enough to sleep, and the ventilation also kept the mosquitos off my face. It was either that, or putting on a fan…and we all know how Koreans feel about sleeping with a fan.

Once I checked into the hotel, I took a very much needed nap and a shower. Then I met up with some folks living here who took me to the Hibiscus Lounge, where I was introduced to this lovely thing called Bull Dogs – rum margaritas with Corona beers stuck into them upside down, dripping their deliciousness into your drink slowly like an alcoholic IV. I sucked on these contentedly under a tall palm tree on the bar patio, eating yummy Guyanese chicken curry masala. It was the perfect way to start my stay.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

preparing for Guyana

Did I tell you that I'm going to be doing some work in Guyana for part of this year?

I saw a travel doctor as part of my preparations for Guyana. I asked him about the Zika virus that has been all over the news, and also, is the main travel advisory from the Canadian government when you look up Guyana. He told me about two other viruses I should worry about, Dengue fever and Chikungunya. Those are way more painful, he said. I hadn’t even heard of that last one.

But I’m not going to the Amazon rainforest this time, I said, so I should be okay, right?

Actually, the doctor said, those mosquitos like to hang out in the cities.

The travel nurse gave me some super industrial grade DEET mosquito repellant lotion. Like, really, really strong. As in, the label says don’t wear it unless you have to. It actually kind of burns when I rub it on my skin, which I think is a good sign that it should work. I mean, if it does that to me, what will it do to the skeeters? I’m hoping explosions. Big juicy bloody explosions.

Besides testing me for TB (twice), they also gave me diarrhea meds. Like, different kinds.

If you’ve got diarrhea, the doctor said, take this.

My goodness, I hope not, I said. I like to think I have a pretty strong-

And if you have really bad diarrhea, he continued, like really, really bad. Like bad. Blood in your stools. Can’t leave the bathroom. Explosions. Big juicy bloody explosions. Causing pain-

I get it, I said, really bad.

Really, really bad, he went on, then take this. With the first stuff.

And wear sunscreen, they said. The sun is pretty strong near the equator. Not that they need to tell me to. I’m Korean and jealously protective of my awesome skin.

But I accidentally got myself sunscreen that only had 15 SPF. Why do they even make stuff like this? What is that going to protect you against? But maybe somehow it’ll be balanced out with the military grade DEET lotion. I feel like it’s strong enough to repel not just mosquitoes, but maybe also harmful UV rays.

Guyana, here I come.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Should I go to law school for a career in social justice? And how do I do it?

I’ve been getting this question often enough that I decided to make this into a blog post for anyone else who might be thinking about going to law school for future in social justice, human rights or other public interest reasons.

This is what a social justice lawyer looks like. .. freezing cold

Do I need to go to law school to work in social justice?

You need to be a lawyer if you want to litigate social justice issues in court, because you have to be a lawyer to practice law.

Otherwise, there are many ways to work in social justice without a law degree. You can be an educator, a researcher, an analyst, an organizer, an activist, or a writer. So no, you don’t need to go to law school.

Also, keep in mind that just because you have a law degree doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easy for you to find work in social justice.

However, having a law degree can certainly help.  Law school teaches you to analyze and reason in a manner way that can be very useful for social justice work. All of the social justice jobs that I have worked after law school have required a law degree, even though the work does not necessarily involve the formal practice of law.  And I won’t lie: people assume that you’re smart, so the credentials make you look good as a job candidate.

So even though you don’t need to, should you go to law school?

My best advice to think carefully about your reasons for considering law school.  Here are some things to think about in particular:
  •       Law school is competitive. I don’t mean that law school is hard to get into; I mean that once you get in, law students are graded on a bell curve. Your grade is your ranking. No matter how hard you and everyone else have tried, only a certain number of people get A’s, most people get B’s and a certain number of people always have to get the C. Even if everyone is brilliant. So you are, in a sense, competing against your own classmate friends. I used to describe it as being like the Hunger Games, although that’s obviously an exaggeration.  This is important because people who want to work in social justice often are empathetic and very sensitive (you care about people, right?), and working in a tough environment like law school can feel soul-crushing at times, and sometimes takes a toll on your mental health.
  •       Law school is expensive. Even if you’ve managed to deal with student loans from your undergraduate degree, law school is three more years of school. If you’re already in debt, having a bit more debt doesn’t seem so bad now, but many lawyers will tell you that once you graduate and have to start repayment, you are going to start to wonder if you can actually afford to take that low-paying public interest job when that Bay Street articling position pays so much better.  Don’t fool yourself: swimming in debt feels awful and it may prevent you from taking the career path you want to take.
Whatever you decide, don’t go to law school just because your parents want you to, or because you don’t know what else to do. Those are the kinds of people who often struggle once they get to law school.

I especially encourage you to go to law school if you come from an underrepresented community. For example, Nunavut needs more Inuit lawyers who understand the particular cultures and values of the land far better than any lawyer who grew up in Ontario will. Go for it and change the world! And don’t let the bastards grind you down.

You don't have to be a lawyer to work in social justice. 
It helps to be able to sing on key though.

How do I do it? Tips for preparing for a social justice career in law school

Again, don’t go into a lot of debt if you can.  Not everyone is privileged enough to avoid debt, but do your best to mitigate it.  Work for a few years to save up before you go to law school.  Choose a law school that has lower tuition: Canada is not like the States, in that all of the Canadian law schools will give you an acceptable legal education that will prepare you to become a lawyer. Work summer jobs. Budget carefully.

Get practical experience in the area you want, even before you graduate law school.  There is a lot of need for social justice lawyers out there, but generally it’s experienced lawyers that are needed. Chances are that you will work with vulnerable populations, and they deserve someone who is competent and experienced too. Getting practical experience, whether it’s through summer jobs, clinical programs, or volunteer work, will put you so far ahead of others in getting a job after law school in the area you want. Law school teaches you how to read and analyze the law, but it does not necessarily teach you how to manage client relationships, handle multiple files, write in a manner that is easy for the public to understand, network effectively with important stakeholders, and these are all skills that look great for someone looking to hire you into a social justice position. Do not wait until after law school to get practical experience; it will just be all that much harder for you, 

Make your own opportunities. The best advice I ever received from a public interest lawyer was to find your own funding and then propose a project to the organization you want to work for. Why wouldn’t they hire you? There are a lot of funding sources out there; some law schools even offer funding awards for public interest projects you propose.  Be creative. Network like crazy. Start up your own charity or business, if you have a great idea that no one else has thought of. 

Educate yourself with as many different perspectives as possible. This is especially the case if you come from a privileged background. It doesn’t matter if you want to work for women’s rights; you should still learn about disability issues, refugees, environmental justice, colonialism, etc. It’s called intersectionality, and the broader perspective you get, the better person you will be as a social justice activist. Plus the social justice world doesn’t need any more ignorant assholes.  So check your attitude and open your ears. I especially encourage you to maintain relationships and friendships with people who are NOT lawyers or law students, so you don't get stuck in the goldfish bowl of law school.

Don’t sell out. You will be tempted to stray from the social justice path. It is so tempting. Those Seven Sisters wine and cheese receptions are just so impressive. And you’ve been a student for so long…wouldn’t it be nice to be able to afford to buy yourself something nice for once if you had a nice job? But you should always be mindful of your goal, the reason why you went to law school in the first place.  The legal community has an ongoing joke about the stereotypical student that put “social justice” and “saving the world” in their law school application personal statements, only to end up working for private law firms in corporate law. It’s easy to stray. Don’t stray!  (Also, keep in mind that there are social justice jobs out there that do pay decently. Not necessarily as much as my Bay Street friends, but it is possible to live comfortably if you can find the right opportunity.)

 Well, it’s okay to sell out a little. If you have the opportunity to get valuable work experience in the area that you want to work in, then give it a try. For example, maybe you want to be a refugee lawyer helping people with their claims, or an Aboriginal lawyer working on First Nations land claims. Working for the government in these areas will actually give you great relevant experience and valuable perspectives, even if that’s not what you want to do forever. Be creative about where you can get experience.   

If your reason for going to law school was to work in social justice and not necessarily to be a lawyer, then remember that there are a lot of great alternative law jobs out there. Stuff where it is useful to have a law degree, but you aren’t necessarily practicing law, in the eyes of the law society. 

Working in social justice is hard. It’s emotionally-draining at times, and at all time you are carving your own path.  If you want to be a corporate lawyer, Bay Street firms will come to your campus to schmooze you and the law schools will set up on-campus interviews.  All of that is set up for you.  This is not the case for social justice.  It’s a constant uphill battle, often frustrating, discouraging, and exhausting. But it’s also rewarding. It may not always feel like it, but you are doing meaningful work and you are helping people.

If you have a deep-seated desire to work in social justice, then go for it! The world can be a terrible place, and it needs people who want to help. Whether it’s with a law degree or not.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Iqaluit Composting and Zero Waste

I've been working on a really cool art project lately with Ottawa-based artist Mailyne Briggs, who has been documenting her fascinating journey through the Zero Waste philosphy. The idea is to try to reduce one's garbage output to almost zero. It involves significant lifestyle changes (like not buying things that come in disposable plastic wrapping), but if we all became a little more conscious about waste reduction, you can only imagine the significant impact it would have on our landfills and the environment in general.

This Sunday, at Winston Square in Westboro, we're going to be doing a very unique art installation where Mailyne will be creating a work of art out of all of the garbage she's produced since she adopted the Zero Waste concept in February - apparently she can fit it all in a jar. While she's doing this, I'll be performing music to accompany her, using my synths and my loop pedal to create a soundscape.

I'll also be wearing this dress, custom-designed for me for this event by Ottawa fashion designer Brandi Tweed of Sabrina Jade Modeling.

The music I'll be playing are pieces that I composed for this event, all along the theme of waste reduction. One of the tracks features an interview I did with Iqaluit resident Jim Little, who has been running one of the only composting programs in Nunavut for years. Finding True North wrote a great feature about him a while back, and setting his interview to dance music was a lot of fun.

You can check out some of the tracks I'll be playing here:

Anyway, if this interests you and you're in Ottawa, come see this cool performance!

Winston Square Live Painting Art Performance
Sunday, July 12, 2015 from 1-2PM
Winstone Avenue, Ottawa, ON