Monday, December 1, 2008

A friend for Dylan

For many years now, guide dogs have been used to assist and protect people with certain disabilities.

These clever companions are highly trained and are most often seen alongside someone who is visually impaired.

But now, several new programs in Canada have begun training assistance dogs for a different purpose.

The 25th Hour's Ryan Hicks explains.

© Ryan Hicks/Carleton School of Journalism and Communication

Saturday, November 15, 2008


As the US economy verges on recession, Canadians can take some comfort in key numbers released by Statistics Canada this morning.

Ryan Hicks reports.

(From CJTV News, March 2008)

© Ryan Hicks/Carleton School of Journalism and Communication

New Voter

Understanding the electoral process can be difficult as it is.

But imagine if you are a newcomer to Canada or a new Canadian voting for the first time.

Ryan Hicks reports on how newcomers and new Canadian voters are learning about the electoral process.

© Ryan Hicks/Carleton School of Journalism and Communication

Friday, October 10, 2008

Recalling the recalls

OTTAWA -- Last November, Michel Dumont discovered that his five-year-old son Sterling had been chewing on recalled Thomas the Tank toys covered in paint that contained high levels of lead.

Dumont says the public simply does not remember the magnitude of the problem.

“The public has a short memory,” said the stay-at-home dad from his home in Thunder Bay. “The average Canadian working family doesn’t have enough time to sift through the recall list. It’s the size of a text book.”

Since the beginning of this year, Health Canada has recalled 84 children’s products, including 10 since the beginning of September. The issue of toy safety exploded at this time last year when major toy manufacturers, such as Mattel and Fisher-Price, issued voluntary recalls on Thomas the Tank Engines, Dora the Explorers, Barbies, and Big Big World 6-in-1 Bongo Bands – to name a few. At the time, the issue was top of mind across the country.

But since the election was called, the alarm bells have been silent.

“It was last year’s big story,” said Kathleen Cooper, a senior researcher with the Canadian Environmental Law Association. “I think people like to think that it’s been dealt with. And they want it to be dealt with.”

The Harper government introduced the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act last April. This bill would have given more power to Health Canada to pull unsafe products off store shelves and to levy steeper fines against manufacturers who do not comply with safety regulations.

Cooper thinks that this led Canadians to believe that the problem was solved.

“When the announcements come out that legislation is going to be reformed, as they did last winter, people who aren’t aware of the details of the legislative process might not necessarily realize that it was just an initial announcement and that there’s a lot of work to do before anything is changed. And all we had was an initial announcement,” said Cooper.

The legislation, which died when the election was called, “modernized product safety legislation up to a minimal point,” added Copper, and it was, “still fundamentally reactive.”

“It wouldn’t prevent toys with lead in them for example from being put on the shelf, it would only give them the power to get them off the shelf,” said Cooper.

Back in Thunder Bay, Dumont says he was scared when he realized his son was playing with toys containing high lead levels.

“When I found out there was lead paint in my son’s toys that he had been chewing since he was three years old, I just hit the roof. I know what lead does to growing brains. It lowers IQ points and lots of parents don’t know that or they’ve forgotten,” he said.

He immediately took Sterling to get his blood tested for excess lead levels. Sterling’s results came back normal.

“We dodged a bullet,” said Dumont, adding that he went through Sterling’s toy box, removing all the toys that were covered in paint that contained lead.

Lead in paint coating children’s toys has been the leading cause for issuing recall notices on children’s products. Of the 84 children’s products recalled in 2008, more than half contained high levels of lead.

Children and infants are most susceptible to the harmful effects of lead exposure because their brains are developing, making it easier for lead to be absorbed in the brain. Health Canada’s website said lead “can have harmful effects on the behaviour and development of children even at very low levels of exposure.”

Consumer safety has come up during the election campaign due to this summer’s contaminated meat crisis. However, most of the attention has surrounded Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz’s controversial jokes and off-colour comments about the crisis, which has claimed the lives of 18 people.

Bringing attention back to what was once the number one consumer safety issue in the minds of Canadians and the media is challenging right now says Cooper.

“It’s pretty hard to get attention from a public interest group’s perspective from the media in the midst of a campaign when you have five different leaders to hear from. It also hasn’t been in the news much,” she said.

Eighty per cent of toys sold in Canada come from China, where Cooper says manufacturing at the lowest cost is the bottom line and where there is little oversight into manufacturing processes.

Cooper says all non-essential use of lead should be banned. “The amount of evidence that we have to confirm that lead is a problem would fill a large ballroom, floor to ceiling. There’s no doubt at all and yet we still aren’t regulating it properly,” said Cooper, who has been fighting for stronger chemical regulations for over 23 years.

She said that whichever party forms the next government will have to prioritize the health of Canadians when dealing with product safety regulations.

Right now, “trade trumps health,” said Cooper. “The most significant problems are with cheap imports. We are not willing to regulate in the way that we need to.”

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"We don't offer that service"

On Friday, I left the Internews office around noon to go home for lunch. As I walked from our office to the main road, there was a group of six people standing around a man lying on the ground.

When I got to the scene, I asked if the man, whose name I later found out was Adrien, was OK. No response. One of the bystanders went up to the man and poked him a few times to see if he was sleeping. He wasn’t, he was unconscious. The crowd stood there. Some people walked away.

I tried to call 112, the Rwandan equivalent of 911. Even though 112 only applies to the police, I thought that if we could get them here, they could take him to the emergency room at the hospital, only five minutes away by car. 112 wasn’t working. I tried to get through ten times, no answer. I ran back to the office to tell our security guard. He said, “this happens all the time.” No big deal for him.

I ran back to the scene and a security guard from the neighbouring Novotel, one of the top hotels in Kigali, had come over. I asked him repeatedly to call someone to come and help Adrien. He must know someone to call in case of an emergency, he’s a security guard! Adrien then started to regain consciousness, saliva dripping from both sides of his mouth. Eventually he called his supervisor and then moved Adrien to the other side of the street where he thought there was more shade.

I told the security guard I would be right back. I went to the Novotel to get a bottle of water. When I went past the front desk, I got the attention of one of the female staff members who was checking in a guest. I told her there was a very sick man on the street beside the hotel who needed help and I asked if she could call someone to take him to the hospital. With no sense of urgency, as though it happens everyday, she said, “Yes, I will. Thank you.” Then, she went back to checking in her new guest.

When I went back to the scene, Adrien was sitting hunched over, back against a wall. I opened the water, handed it to him, and he drank the whole bottle in 3 gulps. Then, I asked the Novotel security guard where his supervisor was. He pointed to across the street, where I saw the supervisor watching everything transpire. The Novotel is located on the other side of the street, but raised about four metres above the road. I went over and shouted up to him, “can you call an ambulance or someone to take this man to the hospital?” “We don’t offer that service,” he replied.

So I went back to the office and got Valentin, one of our cameramen/editors. I explained everything to him and he came back with me to see what we could do. When we got back to Adrien I got Valentin to translate for me. He asked Adrien what happened and Adrien said that he fell and that he has a brain disorder. He said he has family in the area and that he was going to visit them, but he was so disoriented he had trouble explaining to us exactly where.

Then, a guy (I’m pretty sure he said he was in town from Uganda) came over and stopped to see what was going on. He said, “I help people like this all the time,” and gave him a 2000 RWF bill and went on his way.

Finally, I put my foot down and said, “We have to get this person transport to a hospital right now.” Adrien then told us that his hospital was in Kinamba (?), near the airport. At this point, he was sitting up more than before, still hunched a bit, but was able to hold himself up somewhat. A couple of minutes later, a moto driver came by and agreed to take him to the hospital for 1000 RWF. Probably not the safest modes of transportation of a sick person at the moment, but given the heat (one of the hottest days in the last two months), and the fact that, by that point, he could stand up, we decided to send him on his way.

To this day, I’m still astonished, and angered, by everything that transpired in those 45 minutes (and if you saw me at home right after this incident, my housemates would say I was “livid”). I just couldn’t get my head around it. I know that sometimes there are people that lie on the side of the road here because they are doing manual labour nearby and are taking a nap. And there are even some who might be faking sick to get money. But this was not the case and it was obvious. In a country where I’ve seen nothing but people helping people and people looking out for one another during my time here (something that Rwandans are known for), what made this situation different? Why didn’t any of the 20-30 that passed by in those 45 minutes (as well as during the time before I arrived) try to help Adrien?

That question then led me to think of all those times we hear in the news – all over the world -- of people turning their heads in the other direction when their fellow citizens are in distress. The problem is universal. What propels people to make the conscious decision to cover their eyes to the plight of their fellow citizens?

I don’t know, but maybe you do, so feel free to share you comments below.

Canadian journalists in Rwanda

Click here to listen

Canadian journalists from the Rwanda Initiative are in Rwanda teaching journalism and are filling the shortage of journalism educators. Take a listen to this radio documentary I did on the program, which aired on Rwanda's newest current affairs show,
Amakuru Y’Iwacu, on City Radio, one of the country's most popular radio stations.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Goma city centre © Ryan Hicks

A mere 15 metres of neutral territory and two ramshackle steel barriers on either side separate Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), whose relations have been strained since the 1990s.

Before entering the DRC, we stop at the Rwandan immigration post to get our exit stamp. We explain why we are leaving (a team from Internews, where I’m currently working, was going to contact some NGOs in the DRC for a film they want to produce, and I tagged along), receive our stamps and then walk to the side of the barrier, show our stamps to the Rwandan official, and then enter neutral territory.

It feels like you are in limbo simply because of what lies on either side of you. Behind you, in the city of Gisenyi, there is a sense of order – the immigration office has computers and the officer swipes your passport, people are going about their business calmly, they’re smiling and seem generally satisfied to be on the Rwandan side of the border.

On the DRC side, in the city of Goma, on the other side of the second steel barrier in front of you, people are walking in a rush, crossing and re-crossing the street, going back and forth between people and vendors. The narrow road is decaying. An empty Blue Sky Intermodal container waits to pass through the gate to Rwanda.

When you walk into the immigration office, the officer takes your passport and logs it, by pen, in a notebook. On the other side of the office is a female officer in front of a window with a tiny opening where four people are sticking their hands through, waving their immigration documents frantically, in an effort to get processed. There’s no organized line, just a crowd, and they seem to really want to cross to the other side where they think the grass is greener.

After the team and I get our documents stamped, Jean Paul, our driver, is told he has to go pay a $15 USD vehicle entry and authorization fee. The DRC officer refuses to give him a receipt, but Jean Paul and Babonne, our cameraman, say that, if we were ever stopped by police officers during our time there, how would we be able to prove that we paid the fee and were authorized to drive our vehicle in the DRC. Not to mention the fact that we don’t really know if they officer is just pocketing the $15 USD. But then the officer told JP and Babonne that he was “the one that decides whether you enter or not,” and that they need to pay the fee without a receipt in return. Five minutes later the fee is paid and we go on our way.

In 2001, a volcano erupted, devastating the city of Goma. And for years, the DRC and its citizens have been embroiled in a bitter civil conflict (largely ignored by Western media).

It shows.

There’s hardly any grass. Patches at best. Roads are marked by potholes…everywhere (imagine worse than Ottawa this past spring). Over the course of four hours, I see no smooth surface outdoors. You can tell that this was once a nice looking colonial city. The lanes of main roads are divided in two, with a raised lane of dirt with patches of grass. Huge roundabouts make up the intersections and also look devastated. People congregate there, lying about, like they are just passing time.

As we go between appointments, we drive through commercial areas. I watch people as they go about running their errands. They look uneasy and “on edge.” When we go to visit the NGO Actionaid, an old woman is wheeling a boy down the rubble road. The boy is sitting in a patio chair that has been placed on a wheelchair because the wheelchair doesn’t have a seat.

On our way to the state broadcaster, we pass huge, empty, and deteriorating buildings. We pass a large empty space, about the size of a football field, made of dirt. About five different games of soccer are going on.

When we drive away, I look out the back of our Land Rover. A boy, who looks to be about six or seven years old, carries a tray on one hand and is runs after us. He points at me with his free hand. Then he makes his thumb and index finger into the form of a gun, points it at the side of his head, and pulls the pretend trigger with his thumb. He performs this sequence five times as we drive away. Pointing at me, shooting at his head. Pointing, shooting, pointing, pointing, shooting, pointing, shooting, pointing, shooting.

We drive back to the border. Check out time. The DRC official logs me into his notebook and I cross into neutral territory where a Chinese shipping container waits to cross into Rwanda. We check back into Rwanda. The immigration is fascinated by the fact that we are journalists. He swipes my passport and we get our documents stamped. I turn around , facing the road leading to Rwanda and a wave of calm hits me. I take a deep breath, realizing that throughout the afternoon in the DRC, my breath had been taken away.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Youth building peace

Just outside the centre of Kigali, Didier Mpatha and a group of young people gather at the Maison des Jeunes (“young people’s house”), in the working class neighbourhood of Kimisagara.

Heza, which means “a good place,” is a two-year-old newspaper and radio project promoting peace and produced for young people, by young people aged 18 to 22. Every month, these young people produce and distribute a newspaper to young people around Rwanda. Each week, they also produce a radio show on Voice of America (104.3 FM).

“Young people are scared to express themselves,” says Mpatha, one of Heza's co-ordinators. He says an authoritarian culture in Rwanda makes it difficult for young people to be able to give their opinions.

Heza is trying to change this.

Readers have direct editorial influence on the newspaper’s content. Each month a team of Heza journalists fan out across the country to distribute their newspaper. When they meet with young people at their partner schools, they receive feedback on the previous issue and discuss which topics are of particular interest to young people at the time.

“We have roundtables and after looking over every article, we have feedback sessions and take questions,” says Mpatha.
When Heza journalists return to their office, they incorporate their audience’s feedback into the next issue. This month’s issue features articles on street children, young people promoting peace, as well as a fictional story about a young Hutu and a young Tutsi falling in love despite their ethnicities.

The common thread throughout the newspaper and radio show is promoting and building peace amongst youth and showing how it is done throughout Rwanda and by young Rwandans, says Mpatha.

Heza is funded by the Cooperation Allemende, a German development NGO. The cost per month of producing a weekly radio show and their monthly newspaper is approximately one million Rwandan francs (less than $1900 CAD per month). Their radio show is broadcast live on Sundays at 5:30 a.m. and is re-broadcast Sunday at 6:30 p.m., and at Saturday at 6 p.m on Voice of America (104.3 FM).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Riot at dance festival opening ceremonies

© Ryan Hicks

KIGALI -- Getting to the opening ceremonies of FESPAD, a pan-African dance festival, became a dangerous feat on Sunday when hundreds of ticket holders and police clashed at the entrance of one of the festival's main venues.

Police hit ticket holders with rubber clubs and shoved them in an effort to gain control over the crowd, while seats sat empty inside. Many children were also amongst the people attempting to enter the Kigali stadium for one of the biggest dance and cultural festivals in the region.

Thousands of people, tickets in hand, formed a line of about one to two kilometres, culminating in a massive crowd pushed up against two sets white metal gates. The only piece of equipment used to make people form a line was a thin piece of rope attached to thin metal poles. Some people had been waiting up to two hours to enter the festival.

Police were letting people in one at a time while they attempted to sweep people with a metal detector. The crowd was very restless, waving their tickets above their heads. The entrance process got out of hand when police began to open the main gates to let organizers and volunteers to pass through. The crowd then attempted to storm through the slight opening of the gates. Police then screamed, pushed, and hit members of the public in an attempt to restore some semblance of order.

In the end, FESPAD organizers told police to fully open the gate and let the crowd through.

The short videos above gives an idea of the chaos that ensued on at least on two occasions, for almost five minutes each time.

Later, a paramedic who wishes to remain unidentified, said that he treated a 17 year-old-girl who had to be evacuated from the melee after the gates were eventually opened and the crowd poured through. The source says that once revived, the girl was in a state of shock. After treatment, the paramedic said she returned to the festival.

FESPAD runs through August 2 at various venues in Kigali and around Rwanda. For more information, click here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lost and found

One of the first aspects of Rwandan culture that I quickly became familiar with (thankfully) is trust and honesty.

The first thing I did when I got here was get a cell phone number. All I had to do was buy a SIM card for 1000 RWF ($2), pop it in my phone and I would be set up with a Rwandan phone number (I’ve been travelling with my cell phone from home).

After Gilbert, our fixer, got everyone set up with their phones, we got in cabs to go back home. Upon our arrival at the house, Kate told the taxi drivers to come back later to pick us up to take us to a restaurant for dinner.

Thank goodness she did that.

When we got into the house, I emptied my pockets and quickly realized that my cell phone that travelled halfway around the world with me was gone. Not even three hours in the country, and of course, I lose my cell phone. I blame jet lag. I knew it I left it in the cab.

But I was hopeful because I remembered that Kate seconded the same taxi drivers to come back in a couple of hours to pick us up. Not to worry, he would have to have it.

The taxi drivers showed up at 7:30 pm to pick us up, but the one whose cab I was in had sent someone else to pick us up. I thought all hope was lost.

However, one of the taxi drivers that brought us had Mohamed’s, my original taxi driver, number. So I called him and he said, yes, he had my phone and that tomorrow we could meet up and he would give it to me. Whew.

When I saw him the next day I was so thankful. But he said that of course I would have gotten it back and that if I hadn’t called him, he would have come back to the house.

When I told my friend Jessie about this, she told me about a similar situation. She had left her Lululemon sweatshirt in the back of a cab and a week later, the taxi driver came back to drop it off.

This kind of honesty and trust doesn’t occur all the time though. Valentin, my colleague at Internews, says that, yes, Rwanda’s are generally honest. “It’s in the culture, most Rwandans are good people, but you can still meet bad people.”

Jean-Louis, a reporter from Izuba Rirashe (Rising Sun), says that honesty amongst Rwandans is multi-layered.

“Rwandans learn honesty from an early age, in school and at home,” he says.

Taxi drivers, in particular, organize themselves in “camps de solidarité,” or solidarity groups. This type of competition drives them to offer the best and most dependable service. Jean Louis says this would also explain why Jessie and I were able to recover our belongings.

But was it just because we are muzungu (white)? Jean-Louis says no. “If a taxi driver dropped me off at home, he would have done the same for me too.”

Do you think either of these scenarios would happen in a major city in Canada? Post your response below.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

How much does an orange cost?

I never think about how much produce costs. I always just go to the grocery store and pick what I want. Buying fruits and vegetable is always non-negotiable. They're part of a healthy diet.

In the cab today on my way to meet a friend for coffee, I struck up a conversation with the cab driver. He started to ramble off all the fruits that Canada grows and which Panama imports...apples, pears, and there was one other one that I forget.

Then he asked me how much an orange costs. An orange? I had no freaking idea (but that's mainly because oranges are not my fruit of choice. I get my vitamin C from apple juice). The cost of a pear? Not a clue. An apple? Forget about it. I just buy fruit and have no idea how much it costs.

I don't know how much any kind of basic necessity costs at home.

But I do know that in Panama, the middle and lower classes are struggling when it comes to food prices. The price of a pound of rice -- one of the most consumed basic foods -- has doubled from $0.25 to $0.50. Taxi drivers buy gas one dollar at a time. And when I ask Panamanians the price of basic items and by how much they have increased, they can rattle off the prices without hesitation.

And I don't even know how much an orange costs.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Hector Guevera is 19 years old. He dropped out of high school and could not find a well-paying job. So when Isthmian Explosive Disposal came to his town on a recruiting tour, he was intrigued.

As a child, he remembers hearing the sounds of the American army testing explosives in the area of the canal zone next to his town, Nuevo Emperador.

Then, in 1999, when the US left Panama once and for all, the explosions stopped. However, the legacy of their presence and their activities, particularly related to testing explosives, remains.

Isthmian Explosive Disposal came to Nuevo Emperador, a town of 5000 people, recruiting people to work for them detecting unexploded bombs and munitions leftover by the US. The US refuses to clean up the lands they left Panama contaminated, not only with explosives, but also chemicals, such as Agent Orange. Isthmian Explosive Disposal was subcontracted by the Panama Canal Authority to clean up lands around the canal that are going to be used for the Panama Canal expansion project.

The danger didn't bother him, says Hector. So, he went to a second seminar, in Panama City and after that, they gave him a four-month contact. Still technically a teenager, he was given three hours of training per week, six days a week, for a full month before starting to work in the field. He says that he and his colleagues were given a shirt, pants, boots, and a hat as their uniform. Once in the field, he worked eight hours a day, starting at 7 a.m. Every day would start with a one hour "briefing" and then Hector and his colleagues would go out and look for bombs. Hector says that on a good day, him and his teammates would find over 300 unexploded ordinances.

At the beginning, Hector says he didn't feel confident in his abilities and doubted his personal security. But after about a month, he says he gained confidence.

However, one incident did cause him to doubt his safety. One of his teammates was removing an unexploded bomb from the ground and as it was being lifted from ground, they realized it was covered in toxic phosphorous. But it was too late. The wind hit the bomb and spread the phosphorous everywhere. Hector says when it reached him, he felt a burning sensations all over his skin. He had to cover his mouth and nose with a cloth so that the cancer-causing chemical wouldn't enter his body. He says he doesn't know why Isthmian Explosive Disposal doesn't provide more comprehensive safety equipment.

Hector says that the pay for his gig with Isthmian Explosive Disposal was a little bit better than what he would get elsewhere, considering he didn't complete high school. 19-year old Hector was paid $2.90 per hour, $300 every 15 days, or $600 per month.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Coco Solo: John McCain's birthplace

This is Coco Solo. It is the US military base in the former Panama Canal Zone where Republican presidential candidate John McCain was born. Like the rest of the Canal Zone, it was the closest thing to utopia, and an almost socialist utopia at that. Any time you needed something fixed at your house, you would just call up the government and they would send someone over right away to fix it. Everything was perfectly kept -- "Pleasantville"-like.

After it was reverted, some of it was invaded by people looking for a place to live. But the majority of people were actually sent there by the Ministry of Housing when they had no where else to go (because of, for example, evictions [not always justified] or fires that forced them from their homes in Colon, the poor former colonial city that lies on the Atlantic side of the canal). The Ministry of Housing told them that they would only be there for three to six months. Many of them have been there for upwards of 16 years.

Here is some footage from our trip there last week. On my first visit there (without cameras), I met Gerogina, a 34-year old mother of five who has lived there for 16 years. She says she was forced to live there after her landlord tricked her and her fellow neighbours and had them evicted. She says that the Ministry of Housing, her last and only hope, sent her to Coco Solo as something temporary. She says that she and her five kids had to live in one apartment with three other families. It was only when she "invaded" an empty apartment that she was able to have more space (but she had to give half of her living room and a bedroom to a family of nine).

She took us on an up-close and personal tour of Coco Solo where I met people who say they are ignored and forgotten.

I hope that the video I have uploaded does not seem too voyeuristic. If it is, I apologize, however, I'm just trying to show a side of Panama that is not part of the "boom" and that is the reality of a significant portion of the population (at least the 40% that live in poverty).

Here is an article from Reuters from last month that talks about Coco Solo in the context of John McCain and his birthplace: Click here

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rubella hand

Last Friday, when Enrique and I went to Punta Galeta in Colon (on the Atlantic side of Panama), I got eaten alive by chitras or chigers -- insects that are much worse than mosquitoes. Not even repellent can stave them off.

We were there to interview Stanley Heckadon, AKA Mr. Panama -- a highly-respected Panamanian anthropologist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) at the Punta Galeta Marine Laboratory.

At first, the bites disappeared. But then they re-appeared in full force on Saturday and were worse on Monday. Enrique said it looked like I had rubella. I agreed.

So I went to the hospital on Monday and they referred me to a dermatologist, who gave me an appointment THAT day. An aside: do I need to point out that in Canada it would have taken days or weeks to get an appointment with a dermatologist? I didn't think so.

However, that didn't settle one little problem. That day, I was scheduled to have lunch with Canada's ambassador to Panama at the Four Points Sheraton. I was so worried that he would think I was going to pass on some horrible disease to him. But luckily we didn't have a lot of time for lunch, so we were focused on talking business, and he had no time to be distracted by my disgusting paw.

Later, I saw Dra. Coutté who said I had an allergic reaction to the Galeta chigers and promptly prescribed an oral allergy medication, a moisturizer, and a cream of some sort. My hand is getting a lot better, it's not itchy anymore, and I don't look like I am carrying around a communicable disease. Thanks Dra. Coutté.

PS: I promise my next post will be much deeper and more meaningful.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sunday, May 4, 2008


On Friday, Enrique and I had the craziest and most intense shooting day. I hope he doesn't think I'm a slave driver. Here's a recap of how the day went.

4:30 a.m.: Wake up and get ready to go. Waking up here early in the morning is so much easier than at home because it is so hot, so you're more than happy to get up and shower off the sweat that has accumulated over your entire body throughout the night.

5:15 a.m.: Enrique picks me up. We are going to Alex Reyes' house to film him and his family as they get ready for the day. Alex is half Panamanian, half American and was born and brought up in the Canal Zone. He is married to Vivian, a Panamanian, and they have two daughters.

5:35 a.m.: Arrival at the Reyes home. We filmed the family as they got ready for their day and then followed Alex to work at the ports where he is an engineer.

8:15 a.m.: Finished filming Alex and family. Went to Kokotoa Coffee across from the ports for a break and to figure out the rest of the day.

8:30 a.m.: Get in touch with Patrick Dillon, executive architect for Frank Gehry's Museum of Biodiversity currently under construction at the former US army base, Fort Amador. Dillon is an American, born and raised in the Canal Zone, who also considers himself very much Panamanian. We organize to meet him in Gamboa at 11:00 a.m. (it’s a 30 minute drive north of the ports/Albrook area). We make other phone calls and send e-mails.

9:45 a.m.: Leave for Gamboa. A beautiful drive with the canal on the left and the rainforest on the right.

10:20 a.m.: Arrive in Gamboa. Drive around looking for potential shots and locations for our interview with Patric

11:00 a.m. Meet Patrick at the house he is currently building. It’s a dream beach mansion with only slats for windows.

Essentially, it’s a house with no windows. The house belongs to the head of the Smithsonian here in Panama City and is behind schedule.

Patrick suggests we go to the new Panama Rainforest Discovery Centre to do our interview.

11:45 a.m.: Patrick is nice enough to
take us in his 4X4 to the Centre. He helped to design and build the centre, so we are welcomed with lots of smiles. Everyone seems to love this guy, which is understandable, because I don’t think I’ve ever met someone so patient, relaxed, and just plain nice, considering all the things he’s got on his plate.

12:15 p.m.: Patrick suggests we go up to the top of the look out tower, which places you ABOVE the canopy of the rainforest.

12:30 p.m.: It stops raining so we decide to do the interview on the top of the tower over looking the rainforest canopy! I couldn’t have dreamed of a better location for an interview.

1:25 p.m.: We lose track of time on top of the canopy tower and have to leave because Patrick needs to get back to the city for a meeting.

1:40 p.m.: Leave the Panama Rainforest Discovery Centre for Panama City.

1:40 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.: Traffic is crazy. We are starving and running late for our 3 o’clock meeting with Carmen Miró, the first female director of the Contraloría (Panama’s National Statistical Agency) during the fifties and a demographer.

3:00 p.m.: Stop at Niko’s for a quick, very quick bite.

3:30 p.m.: Arrive at Sra. Miró’s house. Interview and film here in her triangular house.

5:25 p.m.: Leave to go back to interview Alex and Vivian from this morning.

5:50 p.m.: Stop at Kokotoa again for another coffee to recharge.

6:00 p.m: Arrive at Alex and Vivian’s house. Realize that the sun is down and that the lighting would be really bad. Decide to call off the interview. Instead, we stay and chat over drinks.

7:00 p.m.: We stop at Enrique’s house to pick up his partner, Milvia.

7:30 p.m.: Enrique drops me off at home. I think we both realized that even though it was definitely an intense day, it was worth it (and we had fun).

Fire update 3

Numerous people have told me that the fire was in fact started in Cerro Patacon, the huge landfill near Panama City. Each night, you can still smell the smoke coming from there. Not many media outlets have been reporting on this here. Hopefully no one was injured because there is a community of people that live in the landfill (and live off of it), including children.

We are going to go there next week to film for the documentary, so maybe I'll find out a bit more.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Fire update 2

The smoke an d smog are not as bad this morning, however definitely noticeable. Today is Labour Day and there is normally a huge parade/march from the university to Plaza Cinco de Mayo so it will be interesting to see how many people actually show up.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Fire update 1

I'm starting to get a headache from all the smoke blowing into my apartment from the fires outside the city. But I have to keep the windows open because if not I'll suffocate from the heat. My choice is suffocate from the heat or suffocate from the smoke!

Panama burning

The Panama City metropolitan area is engulfed in smoke and smog as parcels of land up to 50 kilometres away are going up in flames.

Reports suggest that the smoke and smog suffocating Panama's largest city are the result of campesinos engaging in slash and burn agriculture in anticipation of rainy season. Other reports suggest that one of the country's largest garbage dumps, Cerro Patacon, is also on fire.

The elderly and those with respiratory difficulties should avoid venturing outdoors.

¿Bienvenidos al Bank of Nova Scotia?

A major Canadian bank is taking advantage of Panama's "booming" economy. Scotiabank is the only Canadian bank operating in Panama and has increased their branch total to five within the last three years.

With good reason: Panama's economy is enjoying the highest economic growth per year, with an average of 8 per cent over the last three years. Canada's current economic growth rate, by comparison, about is 3 per cent.

But Canadian Scotiabank clients beware. Though you may be a loyal client, you'll still have to pay international withdrawal rates when using Scotiabank Panama's bank machines.