Saturday, March 05, 2011

There Be Dragons

Ancient geographers recognized that maps were things of beauty, a testament not only to what was known about the physical geography of a journey but to the heights to be scaled by human dreams. Mapmakers documented journeys that were both magical and mythical. Maps contained what was already known about an area as well as all the possibilities. In recognition that one never knows all there is to know about a region, they placed in the four corners of maps, wondrous breasts and birds, such as were said to guard the entrances to heaven and hell. They said about the edges of ancient maps, There Be Dragons.

I have been engaged in a journey that requires this kind of map making. We have set off for a destination yet to determined. We have lost sight of the safe harbour from which we set sail and are headed for a shoreline that remains remote. We are unsure of where we will pitch up or when. And lately the journey appears to be as much about the dreams and possibilities inherent in the process as well as the actual territory to be covered.

For 5 days last week, I was closeted with four people who talk as fast and as much as I do. I got a good dose of what it is like to have to listen to me! We were finalizing a 2 year grant we received from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to meet together and plan how to implement Participatory Research in Pakistan. Our meeting was to have been held in Pakistan but as we were unable to travel there in the past two years due to insecurity, we organized to meet in Vancouver.

I was the only person who knew any of the others before the week began. One had been to Pakistan with me and one I had only ever talked to on the phone. So we had some team building to do. We have a medical anthropologist working in health promotion from Manitoba; a nursing professor from SFU in MCH; the head of Physicians for Global Survival and the head of the International Institute of Child Health at UBC whom I had worked with 25 years ago in Ethiopia.

At the last minute, likely due to the current turmoil in the Middle East, our Pakistani colleagues did not get their visas. So we used Google docs and email and long telephone calls to connect with them. We accomplished the objectives of our meeting; beginning to work together as a team; analyzing the data from an environmental scan done by our Pakistani partners in local villages and planning 3 research proposals from the data obtained from the scan. By the end of 6 days we had also drafted an outline and made a good start on a project to train midwives. And we all had headaches.

After delivering the last person to the airport, I returned home, picking up my mail enroute. In the parcel from my sister there was a card with the colour drawing that heads this post, of Abyssinian Long Claws by the artist Jill Last. I thought it was a birthday card from my sister, but inside was a note addressed to me on leaving Ethiopia 25 years earlier. At first I didn't recognize it although the artist was well known to me. Then I realized it was from Charles, the physician I had just spent 5 days with, who had been in charge of the project in Ethiopia when I left 25 years ago.

I called my sister in Winnipeg to ask where she had found the card.

"Was it yours?" she asked. "It is your name and about Ethiopia, so I wondered. I found it in the back of the frame I bought at the Goodwill Store."

I was gob-smacked and got prickles on the back of my neck.

What are the chances of this? My sister finds a card I received in Ethiopia 25 years ago when she purchases an old frame at a thrift shop. And if that is not enough, it arrives the day after we have been meeting about the Pakistani project. That was when I realized that this team I had pulled together, this journey we were on it was both magical and mythical. When I illustrate this journey, one of the wondrous beasts in the corner of my map will be Abyssinian long claws.


Anonymous Elizabeth S. Hillman said...

I too am gob-smacked at your magic tale, and I thoroughly enjoyed "There be dragons " and can hardly wait for the next chapter.
Thank you for making the sun shine on a chilly steel-gray day.

I am always glad to hear news from Pakistan . THANK you.

And many happy returns of the day-
although I am late as usual.


12:09 PM  
Anonymous elizabeth hillman said...

Again? But I did already ,and enjoyedyour dragons and bird !
I expect, as udual, that I have done something wrong .

I am glad your Abyssinian bird came home to you to roost, and I wish I had been in your Pakistan discussion group !


12:19 PM  
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