common answer is the pursuit of hardship. I am guilty of this myself.
My ancestors toiled for years to escape bondage to the unforgiving soil and come down from
the hills to the light of the cities. Now I spend half my leisure time hurling myself
back up those same mountains.
Canadians love to pursue hardship.
They run, hike, cycle, rollerblade, inflict pain and dirt and the strain of the elements
on themselves, spending vast amounts of time and money to recreate the very hardships
that the farmers of Guatemala can never escape. It is absurd. It is as if we cannot accept
the civilized life we have created for ourselves, that unless our bodies tell us that
we have laboured in some sustained, physical way, we have achieved nothing.
Freedom and opportunity have proved too much for some.
In Toronto I found one of the oddest sights of my travels. In some of the hipper streets,
it has become cool for healthy, educated young people to sit in the dirt and beg for
spare change from passers-by. I could hardly believe it the first time and broke stride.
In Cuba there were many sharp hustlers, but that was a result of a lack of opportunity.
In Cuba, there is nothing for astute men and women to turn their talents to. In Guatemala
and Mexico, in spite of the torturous hardships of everyday life, most people were far too
proud to beg. What could possibly have brought such young people with so much opportunity
in life to demean themselves like this?
I had to ask. The answer was, that they could not get a job without debasing
themselves in some way. They'd be forced to cut their hair or remove their piercings.
They refused to take part in a society they despised. I could not understand it.
I held back my arguments, knowing them to be useless, and anyway, I was getting in their
way. Although they rejected society, they had a single-minded focus on acquiring its
spare-change wealth that would do any asset-stripper proud. It seemed like
muddle-headed vanity to me, to sacrifice personal dignity for the self-endowed image of a
rebel, and live like a flea on the dog's back rather than be the dog.
I am unkind. Perhaps they are like me in some way, unable to content themselves
in the ease and confusion of choice available in a first world society. Perhaps they seek
to inflict some self made hardships on themselves, to make life more basic, to bring
it back down to an everyday struggle for survival, winning each day from the jaws of
And so I must enter the fire again. In a nice, planned, Canadian sort of way.
I'm going on a two week tour of Quebec and Ontario, risking my all in wild bouts of
hiking along paths and canoeing as long as it's not too wet. And if there's a cow out
there, I'm going to milk it.