Friday, August 22, 2014

Monday, Our First Complete Day

After talking with Pastor Mervin Masakeyash on our first evening in Mish, we decided to take our first full day, Monday, as a day to get to know the people in the community and let them know we'd be running a children's program all week. It was the Civic Holiday, and people would be at the community centre for activities.

So most of us headed down the 4.2 km sandy road to the community centre, taking some activities for children, just in case they came.

Sandy Road really is well named. It winds down, around several curves,  to the community. At the top stands the dramatic and distinctive profile of the school and water treatment facility, and then the teachers' residences and the nurses residences. The road is dotted along the way with houses spread out on either side, with a lake on the right hand side. Outside the houses, there were usually several children playing. Some would watch us curiously or wave as we passed.

Driving the road can only be done slowly, and causes billowing clouds of yellow sand to rise in the air and settle into the crevices and curves of the vehicles. The fine stones rattled against the doors as we carefully drove along the road. We learned not to get over confident and speed up unless we wanted to risk ending up in the ditch!

That first day, some women were waiting at the community centre hoping that we would have brought the donated clothing that had come up with us on the truck, but Mervin had suggested that we bring it on Thursday, as the men of the surrounding communities were gathering for a two day conference on Wednesday and Thursday and the end of that would be a good time to put out the clothing. We valued his input so agreed to wait. Paul and Mervin instead drove the truck to the homes of some needy families in the community and delivered 50 lb bags of potatoes, and other food donated by the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto.

A.J. hung out with the kids in the gym at the community centre and Susan, Christy, Eliana, Rebecca, Sharon, Jamie and Tori connected with a crowd of kids that gathered outside, thrilled to join in the fun.

Paul had seen a 7 day old baby in a "bundle" while delivering food, and when he told me, I had to get a photograph, so he took me back to ask the mom. Joyce, who was an obstetrics nurse before she retired, came with us! The beautiful baby looked snug and secure. I kissed his  head and whispered a blessing.

Christy's cotton candy machine was a big hit! None of the children had ever tasted cotton candy before and they loved it. They willingly lined up over and over for a taste!

 Children everywhere love making daisy crowns.
 The dogs were ever hopeful of dropped crumbs or better. If we weren't careful they'd swipe food out of the children's hands. But they too, had a hungry belly to fill.

Christy had activities for all ages, and even though we hadn't planned to run the program that first day, we went with the flow, and the children who came had something to do.

Paul needed to go to nearby Pickle Lake and I went too, never having seen it before. I was shocked at the price of food and we were grateful that we had brought as much of what we needed, with us. I don't know how people manage to buy food at the prices we saw. A bunch of bananas, for instance, was $8.00! Of course it is expensive to transport food so far north.

Those working with the children had not had any lunch, so we quickly made tuna salad sandwiches at the school and drove back down the road to deliver them.

We were all exhausted by evening. It had been a day packed with new experiences. We had not communicated well with one another and some felt unsupported. We had ridden madly off in all directions. Some of us felt inwardly chastened by our reactions, spoken or not, under the pressure of that first day. But we had only just begun, and were only 11 tired very human beings after all. :)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Perfect Place to Stay!

We arrived in Mishkeegogamang so glad the doors of Missabay Community School were opened to us as a place to stay. 

We slept together on a classroom floor for a week, and it turned out to be the best accommodation we could have chosen.

The school is beautiful. Built on the shores of a beautiful lake over which the sun rose gold every morning. We did not have showers, but the Queens University students in the teachers' residence just down the road, gave us an hour a day in which those of us desperate to have a shower could share theirs, otherwise the girls and boys washrooms or the lake, or the showers at the community centre worked well.

MissabayThe school is named after Chief Missabay, in the photo below from the Archives of Ontario. He was a respected leader in the community in the early part of the last century, and it was an honour to stay in a place named for him.

Blind Chief Missabay, making a speech at Osnaburg

ca 1905

Archives of Ontario
C 275-1-0-2-S7600

"Missabay, the recognized chief of the band, then spoke, expressing the fear of the Indians that, if they signed the treaty, they would be compelled to reside upon the reserve to be set apart for them, and would be deprived of the fishing and hunting privileges which they now enjoy." Commissioners Report, Osnaburgh House, July 1905.

 We set up our supplies in the school kitchen and got organized, and had our first visit, from Pastor Mervin Masakeyash, who was part of our team for the week, along with two youth from the community.
The school is a hub of activity, with custodial staff arriving in the morning as early as 6.00 a.m. and people coming and going to use the wireless internet. Because we were there we had a chance to meet people and form relationships with Marita, Kendra, Josie, Mary, Donnie, Isaiah, Desiree, Savannah, Jeff, little Tameeka, Ishmael and Salvator, Bitubin, and others. We even had visits from four legged friends.

Whenever we had a meal, we invited the people around at the time to join us. It was humbling to hear the stories shared and get to know some of the people we met on a level we would not have done otherwise. They were so gracious and easygoing in sharing their space with us. We settled into a rhythm, sharing our space with one another, too. For me solitude is almost as necessary as breathing and I sought out precious moments alone by rising ahead of the crowd.

We started each day with a short inspirational reading, a chapter from Proverbs and a prayer. And then we debriefed daily as a team so that we could learn from our mistakes and keep the lines of communication clear. 

The school is built around a central circular meeting place, with corridors running off it. It is hung with colourful tapestries, and the walls are covered in historical black and white photographs of the community's earlier years. I loved looking at these photographs and the skilled art work in painting and needlework that surrounded us there.

And always we were drawn to the world outside that silently waited for our admiration. It was the perfect place to stay.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Into Another World

We left Ignace for Mishkeegogamang (formerly known as New Osnaburgh) after lunch on Sunday, August 3rd. 

We had been traveling along Highway 17 until that point; part of the Trans-Canada Highway, but now we branched off onto Ontario Highway 599, which Wikipedia describes as a "long and isolated road in Northwestern Ontario," which travels through the dense forests and hills of the Kenora district, and ends in Pickle Lake.

The day was grey and dull and threatening rain, and our small, loosely held together convoy, bumped along the rough and bumpy road, slowly. The 263 km drive was estimated at 4.5 hours and it felt as though we were crossing the border into a different land.

Sharp stones pinged the body of my brave black Honda Fit. Inside, Joyce kept a close watch on Rebecca and I; whoever was driving, to make sure we switched when we got tired. Rebecca had put together a great selection of road trip music on her iPhone that kept me entertained for the long drive. 

Jamie was far ahead on his motorbike; Susan, Christy, Eliana and Sharon were ahead of us in her SUV, and far behind us all was the rented Budget truck driven by Paul and A.J.

The forest was indeed dense on either side of the dusty road; Wikipedia describes it well. Suddenly there was movement alongside our vehicle and to the right of the car, running along in the ditch between us and the forest was a young moose, shaggy, chocolate brown, eyeing us warily. We had seen the "moose at night" warning signs for hundreds of miles but this was our first sight of one, and we slowed down in case it suddenly got spooked and changed directions. 

We safely passed the moose and had not gone much further when Susan's vehicle stopped and she got out to examine her back window. As we pulled up behind her we saw that there was a large gaping hole, almost the size of a football in the top right corner, and the rest of the window was shattered. She said she had heard a loud "crack." We wondered if someone in the woods had taken a shot at the moose and hit the window. The truck pulled up soon, as we were gingerly picking the glass out of the trunk with the surgical gloves I keep in my trunk in case of accidents.

When we were finished, Susan taped a large green garbage bag over the empty space where the window had been. That was not going to withstand the journey, so she got out her roll of silver duct tape and strip by strip, covered the garbage bag and window space. I have never owned a roll of duct tape, but needed it later in our trip for a patch up job on my own vehicle. I think I need to keep some on hand!

 Grateful that we had the tools to cover the gaping window, we continued on our way again and in late afternoon, just as we were all feeling very tired from the last long leg of the journey, we saw a sign saying, "Mishkeegogamang."

Our energy suddenly surged! We stopped, hopped out of the vehicles and climbed up through the undergrowth to the sign to take group photos. Jamie, Paul and A.J. were either ahead of or behind us somewhere.

We carried on, passing the small settlement of Ten Houses, where Chief Connie Gray-McKay lives, as well as Mervin, the pastor with whom Paul has become good friends. Finally, several kilometers down the road, we were in the village of Mish. Joyce pointed out the police station and the nurses station and Rebecca commented on the difference she could see in the community since her last trip in 2012. We stopped and waited as Paul got out and tried to find someone with keys to the teachers' residences where he had arranged for us to stay. Outside the car windows the air was alive with more small flies than I thought possible. "Is it like this all the time?" I asked Susan, and she laughed. I took that to mean, "Yes!"

It turned out that the arrangements for accommodation didn't go as planned; one of the teachers' residences was filled with construction workers and the other with two students from Queens University running a literacy program, but we were prepared that plans were flexible and fluid. Paul tracked down a couple of the community leaders and we were given permission to stay in Missabay Community School, at the end of a 4.2 kilometer climb along Sandy Road, which could not be driven faster than 40 km an hour. 

Within minutes of getting out of the car at the school, two bugs flew into my eye. Our cans of Muskol insect repellent became our body spray of choice and best friend! But we had somewhere to stay and were grateful! It was the eve of Canada's Civic Holiday, and we were about to celebrate it with some of Canada's first citizens. We had arrived.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Journey Continues

On Sunday morning, August 3rd, we woke early again as directed by Paul, without whose brisk orders we would have probably not reached our destination until at least a week later! We had a drive of just over 500 km and about 7 hours ahead of us if we didn't have any mishaps, and we needed to get to Mishkeegogamang early enough to find the keys to the place we would be staying in.

About half way in terms of distance, we stopped in Ignace for lunch. It was the last stopping place on our journey before Mish. You can read about the town of just under 2000, here.

As we drove up to the Mr. Sub restaurant that was our lunch stop,  I saw Jamie talking to a group of bikers. I went on into the restaurant and then decided to run back to my car to get my camera to take their photo. As I stepped outside I found them all in a circle, arms around each other and Jamie, heads bowed in prayer. It turned out they were a group of Christian bikers from the States, looking for a place to plant a church.

They gave Jamie this cool biker version of the Bible. 

It was time to get moving again. Our adventures of the day had not yet ended. More tomorrow! :)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Back to the Beginning

Back to the beginning of our journey to Mishkeegogamang!

We left Cochrane early on Saturday, August 2nd, and were stopped as we left town by the police who were doing a seat-belt and sobriety check. The police officer peered into my car and wished us safe travels and we were on our way; me wondering why I felt so pleased at being found sober, as if I am normally anything but, especially at 8 in the morning! I laughed to myself at my silliness.

We had a journey of about 9 hours and 730 kilometers ahead of us to Thunder Bay. We were taking the northern route on the journey there as we had a full truck and it was better to avoid the hills of the southern route.

Paul and A.J. were sharing the drive in the 24 foot rented Budget truck, which was packed to the gills, full of donated items of clothing, baseball and hockey equipment, and food from the Daily Bread Food Bank; as well as our supplies for the week.

In Susan's S.U.V. were her daughter Christy,  granddaughter Eliana, and Sharon, who attends our church, whose Metis background made this trip very meaningful for her.

In my Honda Fit was Joyce, a retired Barbadian nurse, who is a stalwart member of our congregation, our 15 year old granddaughter Tori, and Rebecca, recently graduated from McMaster University and going to Mish for her second time (her previous trip was in 2012.)
The 11th member of the team was Jamie, on his motorcycle.

Rebecca mentioned that one of the items on her bucket list was to ride on a motorcycle and as we were leaving Cochrane, Jamie stopped at a yard sale just outside of town, to see if he could find another helmet. He found several helmets and chose the best of them to buy. Unfortunately he momentarily put down the prescription safety goggles he was using for the ride and someone else picked them up. He didn't get them back!

Petite Rebecca hopped on the bike with the big black helmet on, and zipped into my raincoat for added warmth. Looking vulnerable to Joyce and I she set off with Jamie; with both of us worrying about her as we drove behind them and watched her adjusting her sitting position and finding a comfortable grip.

 Along the way we stopped for a break and found Rebecca sitting on the steps outside the restaurant, pouring a bottle of water over the side of her leg, which had been burned by the exhaust pipe. I remembered being 8 years old and getting a burn in the same place from a neighbour's motorbike and I remembered the skin peeling off and the nasty aftermath. I got the first aid kit from the trunk and Rebecca was suddenly surrounded by a flock of concerned helpers. Joyce calmly took charge and dressed the wound with Polysporin and a sterile gauze pad. 

Apart from Jamie's bike running out of gas along the way, far from a gas station, we arrived in Thunder Bay without further mishap. That night we stayed in the dorms at Lakehead University, tired, but excited that the next day, we would reach Mish.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

We met Isaiah Roundhead in Mishkeegogamang and he shared a piece of his writing with one of our team.  When I asked, he gave his permission to share it here. 

I loved meeting kindred writing spirits among the people of Mish. He was not the only one!

Nobody is greater than anybody as we're all created equally, despite our strengths and weaknesses.
Each of us have our own responsibility, purpose and gift as we're all unique in every possible way. 
Humble yourself to Creator as we're all just specks of light and nobody is separated from all creation.

This morning we started for home and are staying at Lakehead University overnight. Over the next two days we'll continue our long journey home, and continue to share our memories with one another as we have done today as we traveled. I have yet to really write about all the experiences we had. Before the end of this week I will begin in earnest! :)