November is national writing month. A couple of years ago, before I began my PhD, I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel within the month of November. I chose to use that time to write reflections on the 16-month bicycle trip that my husband and I took in 2008-2009 (see http://goingeast.ca), in hopes of actually writing a book about our journeys. Having experienced NaNoWriMo, I find myself wanting to take on new writing projects every November, but needing to adapt them to my particular needs at the time. As such, I've come across a couple of off-shoots of Nanowrimo, ones that caught my attention are: AcBoWriMo (Academic Book Writing Month), AcWriMo (Academic Writing Month), and this year DigiWriMo (Digital Writing Month). Most of my November writing this year will be in the form of my research thesis proposal. I am officially declaring here that I plan to complete at least the first solid draft of my proposal before the end of November. I'll track my writing in the DigiWriMo system, which will also include any blog posts and other writing related projects that I partake in during the month of November.
In honour of NaNoWriMo, I dusted off a little snipet from my first NaNoWriMo writings to share with you. I hope you enjoy it.
Before we even left home, we had to mentally grapple with the idea of receiving hospitality. We couldn’t afford to “pay” people to stay in their homes – we could not see how we could return the favour for the generosity that people were bound to be showing us along our journey.
Scott happened upon an article about receiving hospitality that really helped. The reality in “western” culture is that people love help but generally don’t know how to. When given the opportunity, people feel better for helping. So we would be giving people the opportunity to help us, and their reward for doing such is just knowing that they helped – that sounded kind of hokey, but upon self-reflection we find it to be true.
One person told us “we were happy we could be part of your journey”. By allowing us to stay in their home, they were now part of what we were doing – so they could own part of our success and celebrate it with us. That sounds like a pretty special gift to me.
One thing that I really needed to get over was the Canadian culture of not asking for what you need. It is certainly easier to accept hospitality that is offered – it is more difficult to ask for what you need. We are taught at an early age that it is not polite to ask things of our host – but if our host doesn’t know what we need, they don’t know what to offer, so they don’t offer it. So we could sit there being uncomfortable, and not ask for anything to change that. Our Turkish friends came right out and told us “if you don’t ask for what you need, we will think you don’t like us”. Wow – that was a reality check.
We vowed to ourselves, that if someone offered us random hospitality, that we would gladly receive it – these were the opportunities we were seeking on our journey – those happen stance opportunities where complete strangers welcome you to their homes.
There are a couple of times when this happened that I regret not taking the strangers up on their offers – both times in Labrador. First was in Port Hope-Simpson, when the owner of a barge offered us passage from Port Hope-Simpson to Newfoundland. He had to make the crossing when the barge was full of logs. It could take 3-days. It would have been fascinating to live on a boat for three days – but the complete lack of control over food and environment scared me. Plus we had connected with a friend’s cousin in Goose Bay, and I wanted to see Goose Bay – so we didn’t change our plans – and tackled the most remote stretch of the Labrador Coastal Highway – it is now even more remote than it was when we took it, as now you can go all the way to Goose Bay – we only went to Cartwright, were we took a 12-hour Ferry to Goose Bay.
The second time, was in Cartwright. We arrived after the last hotel room sold out. We didn’t have a place to stay, so we hung out a bit and hoped for an invite. We did get one, but I wasn’t comfortable with it. I wasn’t sure if the guy smoked. He was an older guy – a guide – who liked to tell stories. He described where his place was and said to just go inside and make ourselves at home. But again, that too was uncomfortable. I didn’t want to accidently go into the wrong home! So instead, we hung around longer – hoping for another offer.
Eventually, we did get another offer. A place to setup our tent for the night – right on the water. They had no room for us inside. The house was a trailer-park kind of size with a small kitchen, single bathroom, small living room, and two bedrooms. But everyone was home for a two week vacation – so the place was packed. They had six-adults and a child living there – and when the first ferry came in, some cousins came over to visit – it was crazy busy. But they were so friendly, it was wonderful. We had our own space – our tent, which made us happy.
The only thing that would have made me happier was a shower – it had been three-days of sweaty bug infested cycling, so I was feeling pretty grungy. I had done a wipe down in the restaurant washroom, but that wasn’t the same as being clean. We were so looking forward to the ferry – just so we could take a shower.
We had two ferry options – they both got into Goose Bay at about the same time, but one of them skirted along the coast visiting a few small towns before going up to Goose Bay – the Ranger. We thought it would be cool to take that boat, but when it arrived, it didn’t have a loading ramp for bikes or vehicle traffic. They couldn’t tell us if we’d get a room, and most of the folks on the boat headed straight to the store in Cartwright to stock up on beer – so that didn’t seem like such a great idea. Had we had a cabin, where we could escape and safely stow our gear, we would have enjoyed the experience – but it really didn’t feel right so we opted to wait for the evening boat – the Bond – which takes vehicle traffic directly to Goose Bay.
Of course, this meant waiting until the evening and I really wanted a shower! So, I decided to be bold and ask. People didn’t offer because they didn’t know that was what I wanted. In the morning, when I walked over to the ferry terminal – before anything was open, the restaurant didn’t open until lunch – I saw a lady on her front porch having a cigarette and a coffee. We had chatted briefly the night before – she lived across the street from the restaurant – she said she would have invited us to stay but it was her sister-in-law’s house. Anyways, she was enjoying a coffee, and I really wanted one – so I ask – if I could have a cup of coffee. She was delighted to invite me in for a visit and a cup of Joe – it was there that I learned that “good coffee” in Labrador was a particular brand of instant coffee – because instant was what everyone drank.
Debbie and Mick were actually from Goose Bay – and would be on the same boat as us later in the day. Mick grew up in Cartwright – and like everyone else from the area – spent a week or two there every summer. In the fall, he would come down for hunting. He did drywall for a living, and did six-week shifts up in Iqaluit. The money was good, but it was a transient lifestyle. In some ways, it wasn’t much different than fishing – you spend much time away, but were happy for the few weeks you could spent at home with your loved ones between shifts. Over his break, he was staying with his sister doing some drywall work on her home – he built a nice archway between the living room and kitchen in their home.
Later in the day, after we decided to take a pass on the Ranger, I popped by their place again. This time I asked if I could use the shower. We were both really grungy and knew that if we could feel clean we’d feel better. Actually, it probably didn’t really matter to Scott, but it certainly mattered to me!
Debbie called her sister-in-law to check that it was OK. Happily, she said it was fine, so we enjoyed a nice hot shower and chance to put on some clean clothes while we wiled away the hours waiting for the boat.