Author Archives: Alison Bate

Rowing with his feet and other Vietnam water scenes

Pix man rowing with his feet

Local rowing with his feet in Lan Ha Bay, Vietnam (Pix by Alison Bate, March 2012)

Colorful boat in Lan Ha Bay, Vietnam

Colorful boat in Lan Ha Bay, Vietnam (Pix by Alison Bate, March 2012)

Travelling in Lan Ha Bay, near Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Travelling in Lan Ha Bay, near Ha Long Bay, Vietnam (Pix by Alison Bate, March 2012)

A quick break from kayaking in Lan Ha Bay (Pix Alison Bate)

Flying the flag in Cat Ba harbor, Vietnam

Flying the flag in Cat Ba harbor, Vietnam (Pix by Alison Bate, March 2012)

A fine mist filled the bay, as we went kayaking near Cat Ba Island in northeast Vietnam. Most people go to see the spectacular vertical mountains dropping into the sea, but actually I spent more time looking at the boats.

Cat Bay harbor itself is full of colorful wooden boats flying the Vietnamese flag, and in Lan Ha Bay, I enjoyed seeing this guy rowing with his feet. It was also a lot less touristy than nearby Ha Long Bay.

We also saw loads of fish farms, each with a little hut on it and a long pier guarded by yapping dogs.They guard the crop while the family is out fishing, often overnight, and seem to harvest lots of mussels and other shellfish and catch giant jellyfish.

(Posted by Alison Bate, Marhc 24, 2012)

Bitmakaly helps immigrant women

My Sudanese friend Lubna Abdelrahman is a very enterprising lady.

In the last 18 months, she has set up an organisation to help immigrant women and their families and is also busy writing articles for and promoting the new Alqalam Arabic newspaper in the Vancouver area.

Lubna Abdelrahman speaking at Edmonds School, Burnaby, BC (Pix by Richard Greenwood)

Pix Kathy Corrigan

Kathy Corrigan, MLA for Burnaby-Deer Lake (Pix by Richard Greenwood)

Her new outfit, Bitmakaly Women’s Association, hosted a community fair at Edmonds Community School on Feb.25.

One of the guest speakers, Burnaby-Deer Lake MLA Kathy Corrigan, told the audience that even though Canadians believed in equality, Canadian women still only made two-thirds the money that men did.

As a result, it was even more important to encourage immigrant women and their families and help them settle into their new country effectively, she added.

Lubna described new workshops she is setting up to help women with a Middle Eastern, Sudanese or Somalian background set up new businesses and learn more about financial institutions in Canada.

“I know it’s very hard. Most new businesses don’t know how to sell their products. You are not alone. We will try to help you,” she said.

Lubna worked for the Ministry of Health for UNICEF in Sudan before moving to Burnaby, B.C. with her husband more than 10 years ago.

Since then, she has worked as an outreach worker, community health worker, program coordinator, translator and hosted numerous workshops. She is also kept busy raising two young daughters.

Bitmakaly Women’s Association (also known as Bitmakaly Women’s Empowerment Organization) can also be contacted on 778-919-1208 or via their Facebook site.

Pix eulachon

The monster of Kitimaat and other tales at Enbridge hearing

Everybody loves a good storyteller and I’m no exception.

Last week, I listened to some of the live streaming of the Enbridge hearings from Kitimaat, the First Nations village a few clicks outside the company town of Kitimat in northwest B.C.

It was the tail end of the first day and the Haisla’s Chief Councillor, Ellis Ross, was telling how Kitimaat was founded and the stories of betrayal over the years.

Now I’ve been to nearby Kitimat, and my memories are of a blue-collar town dominated by the blazing hot furnaces inside Alcan (now Rio Tinto Alcan);  the Eurocan Pulp and Paper mill spewing God knows what (now closed); and touring around Methanex  (also closed).  To be honest, I never even saw the native Indian village, on the east side of the Douglas Channel.

I’ve always known Kitimat and nearby Prince Rupert as shippers of the “dangerous and the dirty”.  If Enbridge has its way, shipping bitumen and condensate through the long fiords embracing the Northwest Coast will continue that tradition, managing to combine the  worst of both worlds: the dangerous (for the environment) and the dirty (heavy oil).

But Chief Ellis Ross and other members of the Haisla Nation took us back eloquently to the time before the “dangerous and the dirty”, before pollution wiped out the eulachon runs and when whales chased herring all the way up the Douglas Channel.

Continue reading

Sufi dancers in Omdurman

Pix Sufi dancers in Omdurman,

Sufi dancers in Omdurman, 2011 (Picture: Alison Bate)

 

 

Pix Sufi dancers in Omdurman, Sudan

Sufi dancers in Omdurman, Sudan (Pix: Alison Bate)

It seemed an indelicate way to arrive at a religious ceremony. We bumped in, out and around gravestones set in desert scrub, before pulling up in the minivan in front of a huge circle of men in white robes.

The pounding beat got louder as we walked to the edges of the circle and saw what they were all watching: green, red and leopard-clothed mystics swirling and dancing in a hypnotic fashion in the middle of the circle.

Their faces told the story: blissful is the only way to describe it. The bumpy ride forgotten, all things forgotten but the compelling dancing, chanting and smiling faces.

It was Friday evening in Omdurman and I’d never seen the Sufi dancers before, despite living in Sudan for five months in 2007. At the time it seemed too touristy, and a long way to go on my one day off a week. Big mistake. Continue reading

Sudan suffers separation pains

Pix ofPix of Khartoum taken from Omdurman

The old and the new: view of Khartoum from Omdurman (Pix: Alison Bate).

By Alison Bate

The capital of Sudan feels a little lost and empty these days.

The distinctive Dinkas – the impossibly tall, thin Southerners – and their fellow compatriots have mostly left Khartoum for their new homeland and the deadline for the rest to leave is just months away.

After April 9, 2012, any southerners remaining will become stateless or, if they are lucky, have to get work visas like other foreigners.

The new country of South Sudan, born on the 9th of July, has taken with it the biggest chunk of Sudan’s oil revenues and Khartoum seems totally unprepared for the loss of all that money.

It will have to find new ways to make an income and meanwhile the residents of Khartoum and its sister cities of Omdurman and Khartoum North are hurting as prices shoot upward.

“Everybody want to leave Sudan. Why you come to Sudan from Canada?” asked one resident, only half-joking.

The price of a sheep shot up to between 400 and 700 Sudanese Pounds (SP) for the Haj earlier this year – the religious occasion when every family buys a sheep.

Translating this into US dollars is not even easy, as there’s a huge gap between the official exchange rate and what you can get on the black market. Continue reading

10 travel tips for Sudan

Kassala resident near the Gash river

Kassala resident near the Gash river (Pix: Alison Bate)

1. Take lots of US dollars in cash, in fact everything you’ll need, as none of your western ATMs or credit cards will be accepted.

2. Change money on the black market, not in banks or official exchanges. As of Dec.1, 2011 you’ll get about 4.2 Sudanese pounds to $1 US on the black market, compared with only about 2.75 SP to the dollar officially.
To change money in downtown Khartoum, the moneychangers’ area is near the Al Kabir mosque, on the northeast side, where they also sell cellphones, ones that likely fell off the back of a truck. Just wander along and you’ll hear plenty of murmurings of: “Change dollars?”

3. If you are travel light or backpacking, don’t bother with a big towel (you’ll dry quickly without one) or lots of soap, toothpaste etc (all readily available and cheap).

4. If you like reading, bring a few books or your e-Reader as pickings are pretty slim for English books, and more likely of the deadly “Elements Of English Grammar” kind.

5. If you want to meet up with local people, everyone uses a cellphone in Sudan and they’re really useful. A cheap cellphone is about $10 US, then pick up a Zain SIM card for about 5 SP ($1.25 US) and a 10 SP top-up card (about $2.50). Continue reading

Coffee and lamb fright in Kassala

By Alison Bate

I went to look at the striking Taka Mountains yesterday, but as is the way in Sudan, never quite made it, sidetracked by friendly people at the street cafes.

Ethiopian coffee, shown here in Kassala, East Sudan, is drunk with ginger and uses grass to filter the coffee.

I’m in a cute little town called Kassala, a long, eight-hour bus ride east of Khartoum. The bare mountains rise up suddenly out of the desert and pulled me toward them. I was heading there when I wandered by a store selling all kinds of luscious desserts. I bought a Sudanese baklava, which you order by weight (so I couldn’t just get one), and sat down to eat them. Continue reading

Khartoum at dawn

I ‘ve just arrived in Khartoum after a four-year gap, and this morning between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., it was pretty magical.

Pix Khartoum shepherds

Khartoum shepherds feed their flock in the early morning

After a sleepless, jetlagged night, I went up to the rooftop of the Bougainvilla Guest House, where I’m staying.

It was still dark, the moon and stars were out, and a cool breeze swept across the patio. Four or five mosques started competing with each other, and the mullahs’ prayers bounced all around the darkened city.

I stayed up there until the skies began to lighten, and the sun landed on the concrete buildings below and little birds with fanned tails flitted around the dirt streets. Khartoum by day is a hot and dusty city, so it was neat to see it this way.

No one in the city seemed in a hurry to wake up. A donkey cart and driver ambled across the dirt square below, and the air smelled of burnt sand. I wandered along one of the streets, where a few sleepy people were heading to work.

And after breakfast I’ll have all the fun of sorting out registering with the police and getting a SIM card.

(Posted Sat. Nov.19, 2011 by Alison Bate)

Selecting tech toys for my trip to Sudan

I can pack a backpack or suitcase for a trip in under an hour, but deciding what tech toys to take is another ballgame altogether.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time researching cellphones and agonizing about whether to take my beloved Macbook with me.

I’m meeting various friends in Khartoum, and everyone uses cellphones there. But of course, many Canadian cellphones (sigh) – including my own – don’t work outside North America. The cellphone with my Telus account doesn’t even have a SIM card, and I foolishly gave away my old unlocked FIDO phone, which would work overseas. I toyed with buying one of Future Shop or 7/11 ‘s unlocked phones, but all the online research drained my limited shopping energy.

So while in Bahrain on a second tedious eight-hour stopover, I bought a $27 US Nokia 1616. Hopefully, it’ll work with a Sudanese SIM card. I’m sure it will – the Sudanese seem to do cellphones better than Canada.

As for my MacBook, I couldn’t face worrying about losing it (and all my pix and personal data). So two days before leaving, I bought a cheapo HP 10.1” Intel Atom N455 Netbook for $249 plus tax from Nanaimo’s Future Shop. Asked them to load Skype and VLC to save time, and set up the Arabic version too. My friend David kindly installed a spare copy of Microsoft Office, and I was all set to go.

My other toy – definitely an indulgence – is a Zoom H4Ns digital recorder that cost $319 plus tax from Tom Lee’s store in downtown Vancouver. It replaces my fancy Sony minidisc recorder, which is basically obsolete after four years of minimal use, and had annoying proprietary software that never worked. The new Zoom seems to download MP3s easily via a USB port. Thank you, Zoom.

And, of course, when I got to Khartoum (just last night) all I wanted to do was write longhand in a ruled notebook . . .

(Posted Saturday, Nov.19, 2011 by Alison Bate)

Longshore foremen talks stalemated in B.C.

Monday, Oct. 31, 2011 (minor updates, June 2019)

By Alison Bate

Talks between the maritime employers and dock foremen in British Columbia are deadlocked, the organisation representing employers said Friday (Oct. 2011)

“Nothing’s happening. We’re at an impasse, ” said Greg Vurdela, vice president of marketing for the B.C Maritime Employers Association.

He also accused dock foremen in Local 514 of the International Longshore Warehouse Union of “dirty tricks” in delaying ship handling at the end of the third-quarter.

Foremen aren’t supposed to work more than 624 hours in a quarter, but nearly always exceed that, according to Vurdela. If they weren’t bargaining, at the end of this September they would have brought in more foremen, as usual. Instead, a group of foremen decided to stop at 624 hours.

This meant one cruise ship left late, one container ship lost an entire graveyard shift and several vessels loading logs bound for China were delayed a couple of days.

The 450 dock foremen in ILWU Local 514 traditionally finish negotiating after the main longshore unions have settled their contract.

In this case, the main ILWU longshore contract was settled – with great fanfare – in May. It was heralded as a historic deal, covering eight years and involving approximately 4,500 workers in five ILWU Locals in Vancouver, New Westminster, Vancouver Island, Prince Rupert and Stewart.

The Canadian government was heavily involved in the talks, appointing two federal mediators even before both contracts ran out on March 31, 2010. For a while, the mediators batted back and forth between the main longshore negotiators and negotiators for the foremen in ILWU 514.

However, Vurdela said although the federal mediator hasn’t officially booked out, the last talks involving ILWU 514 were held Sept. 15 and nothing much happened then or has happened since.

“We’ve made our final offer, and the negotiating committee is not willing to address it.”

Vurdela claimed there were several sticking points involving wages, benefits and languages changes that when added up meant the ILWU 514 folks wanted a richer settlement than the main longshore agreement.

He said foremen make on average, including benefits, about $200,000 a year, and a significant number make $250,000.

“I’m left not understanding why guys who make $250,000 are not signing onto this,” he added.

ILWU Local 514 has not returned email or phone requests for comments to date.

© Alison Bate, 2011.

UPDATES:
* Push for a new port workers’ contract intensifies (June 25, 2018)
* Tentative deal reached to end B.C. port lockout (May 30, 2019)