Dispatch #211 - Thank you
Wow, that was one whale of a welcome!
You could live a thousand lifetimes and never experience a homecoming like Ottawa gave our family last Sunday. You might have thought I'd cried all my tears out already, but even today, as I think again about what it felt like to be the recipient of a group hug 3000 people strong, well . . . you probably know what's happening to my eyes again, right now as I write.
My eyes were leaking long before we left for the final leg of our long journey, the one that would close the circle and bring us right back to where we started. The tear dam started bursting with the visit of our dear friends, the Hoopers, who came to see us in Papineauville. Behind the scenes, the Hoopers have been taking care of our house and our tenants, a bigger, more frustrating job than they ever could have imagined. It was a job we had never even asked them to do. Like everyone else, they just did what they could to help us. We can never repay them sufficiently.
There were the wonderful two days spent with Diane King and Paul Couch, (we'd been calling them the Giant Sofa family) who had already shown their caring for us through three years of tending the Northern Magic website. We had never met them in person before, but soon we knew for sure that they would stay our friends. While we received a stream of visitors, Diane and Paul took care of everything for us: keeping us fed, washing dishes, cleaning the boat, helping put up the rigging, taking our phone calls and e-mails. It felt like I was a child again, being cared for by a loving, devoted mother.
Then came our family: Mom, Dad, my sister Linda and her daughter, Sarah. They have done so much for us, to make this trip a success, to make our dream come true. I can't even begin to list it all. Linda and Dad were the true fifth and sixth crewmembers on Northern Magic, with us every step of the way. Our reunion at Papineauville the day before we returned to Ottawa was, well . . . you know me.
That night my parents invited us to dinner. For some reason, they had had trouble finding the parking lot at the marina and had parked their rental car some way up the road. On our way to it, Mom turned to Herbert and asked, "Do you have a dollar?" Herbert found a loonie in his pocket and handed it over to her.
"Well," she said, as we walked up to the car - a car, I might add, that was suspiciously bedecked in yellow balloons and blue ribbons and carrying Alberta license plates - "you've just bought yourself a car!"
Yes, Mom and Dad had given us a car. For four days they had actually driven across Canada so that they could give us their own vehicle. That's the kind of parents I have. You can probably guess what I did next.
"It's not often that someone really needs you," my sister Linda said later, when we tried to thank her once again for taking care of our finances and so much more while we had been gone. "It's like - it's like when you're a mother and have a little baby who really, really needs you. Although it's a lot of work, you just don't want that feeling of being needed to end." Linda's eyes were misting up as she talked. And then, of course, I had to join in. We're sisters, after all.
So maybe you can understand why it was, as we motored along the Ottawa River on our way home - when we saw hundreds of people lining the shores, when we saw banners saying "Welcome Home", when dozens of boats, sailboats, motor cruisers, dinghies and even kayaks joined us in the rain - why my eyes, already well primed and practiced, were already full of tears. We'd been hugged and loved and protected and helped by so many people for so many days there was just no place left for all that swelling emotion to stay inside. I was, I have to say, not the only person on board Northern Magic with moist eyes.
You can't imagine what it was like to face that wall of cheering people as we made our final landing on the beach of Petrie Island. To be enveloped by such love, such enthusiasm, such caring, such a huge group of friends . . . well, you saw it in my eyes. As I made my slow way through the throng, my wad of tissue paper got larger and larger - helped by kindly ladies with tears in their own eyes, who added their spare tissues to mine. By the time I made it up to the stage my wad of soggy paper was only marginally smaller than the giant 25 pound Hershey Kiss with which I was about to be presented. You, who stood there in pouring rain that day, who reached out to shake our hands and hug us and let us know you had been behind us, you were magnificent. You can't ever imagine what a gift you gave us. We'll still be feasting on that memory when we're 90 years old.
It's impossible to properly thank all of you, who made the ending of our trip the most spectacular moment of all. I'll try, but I know I can't do you all justice. First of all, Diane King and Paul Couch, who conceived and created the wonderful Northern Magic website through which thousands of other people around the world were also able to follow our trip. Diane also coordinated our homecoming, which surpassed anything we could have ever dreamed about.
The City of Ottawa and the Friends of Petrie Island also played a big part in organizing and supporting the event, particularly Rob Jellett and Councillors Phil McNeely and Herb Kreling. We'd like to thank Capital Sound and Light, and Mike and Shawn Hooper, for providing the sound system, and Karen and Kevin Hooper for organizing the sale of T-shirts, all of which sold out. In fact everything at the event sold out, even the order forms for my coming book. Thank you.
The good folks at BeaverTails, Bob Libbey and Grant Hooker, provided free BeaverTails for the crowd, and their employees worked for free, and in return happy partygoers with cinnamon sugar on their faces stuffed about $3000 into a donation jar, for our Indonesian and African projects. The Hershey's Chocolate Shoppe and Joel Lapalme put on a spectacular appearance, giving us mountains of our favourite chocolates. Pierre and Mario's Independent Grocer on Orleans Boulevard generously provided the food for the bar-b-que free of charge, so that the entire proceeds could go to our charitable projects. The Orleans Lions Club provided loads of hard-working volunteers.
We'd like to thank Jean-Louis Grandmaitre for the use of the sand pit site, and for the moving of mountains of sand in preparation for the party. Joanne Griffin and Fallingbrook School have supported us all along in our trip in many ways, but also played an important role in the event. They not only made the giant banner, but they also provided the magnificent Canadian music of our favourite musician, Michael Mitchell, as well as the beautiful rendition of Oh Canada by the Fallingbrook School Choir. That's the one that made me cry. Again.
OC Transpo provided shuttle busses. Yvan Dubeau and Safeguard Business Systems supplied the T-shirts at cost. The Rockliffe Yacht Club and Don Jazey coordinated the flotilla. The Fallingbrook Community Association provided the two giant cakes. The Navy League of Canada provided two escort boats. G&G Lalonde Boat Sales and Small Engine Repair provided the boat that delivered four of us to the beach (Michael had beaten us to the party, having abandoned ship and swum to shore half an hour before, as he had vowed years ago to do.)
The Cumberland Heritage Museum also participated, in addition to the many individual volunteers who helped make it a true community event. We'd also especially like to thank the many of you who brought gifts for us - the couple who brought the boys their absolute favourite computer games, those who brought chocolates, home-made cake, flowers, plaques, and so much more. We didn't get to thank all of you in person, but our pile of gifts on the stage just continued to grow. You should see how many Hershey Kisses I have! Whatever am I going to do with them? Hmmm. . . .
We also especially want to thank the Ottawa Citizen, who believed in us from Day One when most of the rest of you probably thought we were crazy. The Citizen supported our trip financially by allowing me the honour and privilege of writing for them, a dream come true for me. The Citizen not only allowed us to share our adventures with you, but permitted you to participate in our adventures as well. By hand-delivering those much-needed and loved letters from you to us in Australia, by making it possible for us to tell you about the need of a small island in the South Pacific for a teacher, by notifying you how you could help the animals of Borneo and the needy children of Kenya, the Ottawa Citizen enabled you, its readers, to become a true and vibrant part of our adventure.
And, of course, we want to thank you, the Citizen readers, the website readers, whose letters and e-mails and prayers all reached us and whose love and support gave us courage when we needed it. We can't possibly thank all of you in person, so please consider this, our final dispatch, as a giant thank you hug in return. A giant, teary-eyed thank you hug.
The most wonderful thing to come out of last Sunday's party is that about $11,000 was raised to help the two projects we've become involved with on our trip. I can hardly wait to let our friends in Africa and Indonesia know about this miracle. The Friends of the National Parks Foundation in Kalimantan, a group of volunteer veterinarians, has been struggling hard since we left them two years ago. The Indonesian government has run out of money to pay its park rangers, so in addition to administering to the medical needs of endangered orangutans, gibbons and other primates, this small non-profit group has begun paying the salaries of nine government park rangers as well. The veterinarian has also begun using his precious stock of medicines to treat villagers who have no other doctor to turn to. When we first met him, he told us he barely had enough food to eat.
We've decided to allocate half of the proceeds raised on Sunday to this wonderful little group, whose hearts are so big and whose need is so great. This amounts to about an entire year's budget for them. We see them as a tiny spark of hope in a country that badly needs hope, a spark that needs to be nourished and protected and turned into a flame that will help build Indonesia and save a national park and its endangered wildlife from extinction.
The rest of the funds will be added to the Boniface and Hamisi scholarship fund in Kenya to which so many people have already contributed. We're hatching a big dream for that project, a pool of money that will grow and develop into a permanent scholarship fund so that many Kenyan children, not just our friends in these two families, can get the education they need. In Kenya, where a grown man may earn $60 for a month's full time labour, it costs $500 a year to send a child to high school.
We're intending to do more, much more, on this scholarship project in future. The money you contributed on Sunday is enough to permit ten more young Kenyans to go to high school. Thanks to you, these peoples' world will have changed.
This weekend we're finally moving off the boat and returning to our beautiful home, with all its space and comforts. It's been a crazy week, a wonderful week, a surprising week, a week in which we've experienced a roller coaster ride of emotions. We're finding our footing now, returning to something closer to normalcy. We're making plans for our future, for selling our dear Northern Magic, for getting re-established in careers, for continuing to put all that we have learned to good use.
Although we're still living on the boat, during the day we've just about taken over the house of our friends, the Hoopers. On the way to use their shower yesterday I was astonished to see Karen and Mike's large walk-in closet.
"I'd forgotten all about walk-in closets!" I exclaimed in delight when I remembered that I had one too.
"I don't see why," remarked Karen dryly, "you've been living in one."
Northern Magic, our home, protector and walk-in closet for the past four years, sits quietly now, on the edge of the Ottawa River. We're far from the ocean, and the water on which she sits is green and fresh, not blue and salty. It is so smooth that there are in fact two Northern Magics - the solid one above, the shimmery one below. The bright flags of the 34 countries she has visited hang still, and their colourful counterparts in the water ripple only slightly. Behind her, the sky is rosy, a promise of fine weather tomorrow. Northern Magic's bow is pointed east, towards the sea. Tomorrow would be a good day to sail.
But inside, the crew of Northern Magic is already depleted. Just as I knew it would, our family has already started moving apart. Two of the children are away at sleepovers at the homes of old friends, and the remaining boy is complaining. "I'm tired of being stuck on a boat," Jonathan says, "I'd rather be playing on the street with my friends."
Tomorrow we begin emptying Northern Magic and moving back into our home. As I pack up our things, I periodically get painful little twinges of nostalgia. There's the powdered vanilla we bought in Tahiti. There's the bottle of Ipek brand shampoo from Turkey. I remember buying those raisins in Mombasa. Oh, an old can of Coke in Arabic script. A sprig of rosemary that I picked fresh from Peppino's garden in Sicily.
Sure, we have the Australian boomerang and the Fijian war club and the wooden bowl we bartered for in the Marquesas, and that elephant table from Kenya - but it's in the tiny reminders of a daily life lived in countries far away that my most poignant moments lie. Remember the day we bought those water bottles in Sri Lanka? Remember the Macro store in Bali, where people would follow us around, peering curiously in our cart to see what kinds of groceries we were buying?
I pack these simple daily things away and know that our voyage is truly over. Now we'll all have to re-learn what it's like to live on land.
Still, it was a great four years, wasn't it? Thank you for sharing them with us.
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-- Diane King and Paul Couch, September, 2001