Why I let a stranger take a laser to my face

Three weeks ago, I lay on an operating table, fully conscious, and let a doctor I’d met 20 minutes before take a high intensity laser to my eyes. For the three or so minutes I was lying there, I heard the sounds usually associated to insects being zapped in the summer, and the smell of my own burning eyeballs. The initial result was less than comfortable. For the next 48 hours I could barely focus on anything – looking at a huge, wall-mounted sushi menu, for instance, was met with endless tears. I had to walk around my darkened apartment whilst sporting a pair of sunglasses more akin to the set of Robocop, or Terminator, than Vancouver. I spent the best part of a week listening to audiobooks, and little else. Yes, it’s safe to say that laser eye surgery was a fairly memorable experience for me.

But, those three weeks have passed since I finally undertook the surgery I’ve wanted for many years. I have never had perfect eyesight. Hell, I realised I needed glasses (revelation alert, parents) when I first started secondary school back in 1997 and used to sit at the back of the class, squinting at the whiteboard, and copying notes off my peers. Come to think of it, I even remember one particular math lesson – where for some reason I sat at the front – getting all the questions right, and then going back and (for some strange reason) deliberately making some of them wrong, so my track record wasn’t suddenly infinitesimally improved. I have no idea why I did that (kids, eh?), but I’m certain I would have got better grades throughout school had I got glasses aged 12, rather than at 17 – when I knew I couldn’t drive without them. But hey, I still did well enough to do the degree I wanted to do, and did just fine in that – now with the added bonus of contact lenses. I had no classroom squinting issues during my university days.

But years have passed. I finished university, and set off on my travels. Screwing around with contact lenses, or having to look after a pair of glasses every day of my life has become part of my routine. I’ve never enjoyed having to deal with putting little plasticy lens thingies in my eyes every morning, or dealing with dirty glasses, or having the burden of remembering to bring a lens case and contact lens solution to somebody’s house every time I decided to crash there and want to avoid horribly dry eyes in the morning. It’s always been a drag, and I’ve always envied those who would wake up every morning, stretch out, and admire just how wonderfully sharp the curtains in their room looked in the morning light. Or rather they wouldn’t – that’s just how they looked to all those non-corrective-lens-wearing brutes I used to see walking around all the time. To me, first thing in the morning was always a negative-three blur. I wasn’t even that short sighted. But it was enough to affect my life.

But, I always knew there was another way. I still remember the first night I went out at university wearing my brand new contact lenses. I’d always been resentful of wearing glasses, and only wore them when absolutely necessary. Going out? Glasses? Never. I remember that first night out being able to see through my contact lenses… wow. I never knew the inside of a drinking establishment looked like this. Amazing. But contact lenses were still a bit of a drag. Eyes would get red and irritated easily. I’d always wear them for far longer than recommended, and they were also expensive. But, the other way was always there. There was always laser eye surgery.

But, the idea of letting someone take a laser to your beloved eyesight seemed scary. A laser… in the face? What if something went wrong? What if I looked the wrong way at the wrong time during the procedure? What if I moved my head accidently, in a disasterous moment of laser-induced panic. There could be problems. Blindless. Argh, it was scary.

But I got over that. Having spent a few months living in the lowered sanitation standards of Lebanon at the start of this year, and trying to maintain a handle on my contact lens wearing, I realised that it was no use. I got a couple of eye infections there – nothing too bad – sorted with some eye drops within a few days. But sensitive eyes, and infections were irritating. And I’d still wake up every morning with those forsaken blurry curtains. I wanted sharp, crystal clear curtains, damn it.

I realised that travel, living in random places, and having to deal with contact lenses was not an ideal situation. And glasses were – for me – still a chore. I wanted to be able to travel, to do sports, to swim, to do just about everything whilst being able to see, and not have to worry about getting dirt caught behind those little lenses, or accidently breaking my glasses. I wanted laser eye surgery. Scary scary laser eye surgery. And then the next time I boarded a plane somewhere, lay around on a stop over in (probably) Frankfurt airport, having not slept properly in what seemed like weeks, I’d be able to see – and wouldn’t have to find the nearest bathroom to wrench my dried out lenses from my long-suffering eyeballs. It was time for it to happen.

Fortunately, I remembered a recommendation I’d received from a colleague of a friend in Vancouver. “The way she described it is like going from standard definition, to high definition on the TV”, Thomas told me. Sounds wonderful. Having previously started watching the game one evening (with contact lenses) in standard-def, then realising I had the HD channel… Well, sport comparing the two definitions is like night and day. It’s amazing.

A couple of weeks later I went for a consultation. I was impressed by the incredibly thorough approach of the clinic I visited. All different weird and wonderful maps of my eyes were taken, the health of my eyes analysed. Brilliantly, neither the years of wearing contact lenses too long, nor the time I’d had internal bleeding in my eye from an impact injury from childhood (you don’t want this to happen to you, trust me) had damaged my eyes at all. I was good to go.

Another month passed, the day of my surgery dawned. I’d taken the ever-so necessary precaution of downloading some Podcasts, and the all important Harry Potter audiobook collection. I wasn’t expecting to be able to do much for a few days after. Surgery came and went. I smelled my own eyeballs shizzling away, I saw crazy green and red fireworks on the ceiling of the clinic operating room, I sat in the dark whilst my freshly traumatized and reshaped corneas screamed in stinging protest. I’d had PRK (Photo-refractive keratectomy) surgery. Similar to LASIK, but without a permanent scar from the corneal flap that is created with LASIK. The recovery time was mooted to be longer, but the results more ideal: no scar from the flap, no chance – albeit an unlikely one – of the flap becoming dislodged from a heavy impact.

The first couple of days were admittedly difficult. Having to go back to the clinic for my 24 hour check-up was painful. Sitting on Vancouver’s Seabus, eyes stinging and streaming with tears was not pleasant, but a few days in I started to be able to see exceptionally well, the pain subsided, and the eye drops needed lessened. Now, three weeks later, I can see amazingly well – those curtains in the morning are now pin sharp – and I know there’s still more improvement to come.

Now, when I board my flight to Lebanon next month I’ll not have to worry about taking my contact lenses out before I sleep, or the impending risk of in infections from having to stick my fingers in my eyes to put in contacts in less-than-hygienic conditions. Everything in the world already looks more beautiful. Hiking on the mountains of Vancouver’s north shore is truly spectacular. I hiked in the snow the other day and could see every snowflake in perfect detail, trees in all their glory – rather than steamed up, dirty glasses, or the irritation of my old contact lenses. I donated my old frames and lenses to a charity which will distribute them to some poor negative-three-sighted person who can’t afford their own pair. Now, I’m one of those people who can see! And it’s awesome. And by the way – the thought of the surgery is far far scarier than the surgery itself.

Blankets for Syrians

In a few weeks time, I will be packing my backpack and travelling once again to the country I called home for the first three months of this year – Lebanon. Whilst being back there, a few friends and I are going to be travelling around the countryside to provide Syrian refugees in the country with winter blankets, warm clothes, and anything else we can give them to help. It’s the least we can do at this time of terrible strife in Lebanon’s Levantine neighbour.

The winter in the Middle East is still in its infancy, but already people are dying from the biting cold, having been forced to flee their homes with whatever they can carry, and live in hastily erected shelters by the side of the road in a country that is not their own. The civil war back home in Syria to the east rages on with no signs of let-up. More than 120,000 people have died, and that number continues to rise, whilst the atrocities pile up.

Our team of awesome individuals has already managed to raise almost $800 thanks to Bishop Stopford School in Kettering (my old secondary school in the UK) purely from donations from people wanting to help. Now, we’re continuing to raise funds until we set forth to Lebanon. Every penny will be spent by us personally to buy supplies for people in need who are living in makeshift camps, and we will be hand delivering what we purchase to families who are without a place to call home, and with little hope on the horizon for peace in their country any time soon.

Our aim is to make a difference for those people living in unregistered refugee camps in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Flanked to the west by the mountain range that divides the valley from the coast, and to the east by the peaks that make up the Syrian border, the temperatures in the Bekaa regularly fall below freezing, leaving survival in basic camps a struggle in the extreme. People are losing their lives here, and being ‘unofficial’ refugees ensures many camps – including the one I visited near Zahlé, on the side of the Beirut-Damascus highway back in March, unsupported by many NGOs.

One day, the almost one million Syrian people currently living in Lebanon as refugees will hopefully be able to return to their homes and rebuild their lives. But for now they can’t, and they desperately need help. One member of the team, Roshina, is running a blog, which you can find through this link, to help us raise funds. Incorporated into that is a secure donation service via Paypal. If you can spare anything this Christmas, please take a moment to donate. Even $5 to will help, it all adds up, and it will make a difference to somebody’s life this winter season! Thank you.

Lebanon’s south – unspoilt beaches, rustic harbours, and smirking prostitutes

It was the moment we saw the prostitute strutting down the hallway with a triumphant look on her face that we first thought that something wasn’t quite right. From that moment on, the “hotel” we’d booked for the night away only went steadily downhill.

Victoria and I were in Sour (pronounced “Soor”) in southern Lebanon, one of the many ancient Phoenician cities that line the coast of the eastern Mediterranean. Lebanon’s fourth largest city – also known as Tyr, was once the gem of a maritime empire spanning the length of the Mediterranean, and was an important sea port alongside other Phoenician cities such as Byblos – 30 kilometres north of Beirut, and Acre – a few miles further south in present day Israel.

Sour, a hour or so drive down the coast from the Lebanese capital, Beirut, is in stark contrast to its larger neighbour. It is tranquil and calm, slow paced, and far less developed. The tiny fishing port caters only for small and rustic fishing boats, and the beach – oh what a beach – is a good half mile long, expansive, and with soft, golden sand and warm, crystal clear water. It’s no surprise that Romans and Crusaders alike desired a conquest in this place, and the extensive Roman ruins that provide welcome open space in the town are painstakingly restored, and whilst not as spectacular as those of Baalbek in northern Lebanon, or Palmyra in neighboring Syria, do command a wonderful view of the sea. The Roman Hippodrome in the city is well preserved, and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

But all of that paled into comparison with our lady-of-the-night incident in our chosen hotel – and the cockroaches in the bathroom, coupled menacingly with hair-ridden playboy bed sheets in the room made me realise that the guy who wrote the review online about the hotel being fine for a reasonably priced night may have been a bit desperate for rest and had run out of cash. Five minutes later we left.

Having laughed at the looks of surprise on the hotel proprietors faces, Victoria and I found our way to the other end of the accommodation spectrum – the utterly gorgeous setting of the Al-Fanar guesthouse. Al-Fanar – “the lighthouse” in Arabic, is centred around an old Arabic family home now lovingly restored to house a few double bedrooms, an outdoor restaurant cafe facing the sea, and it’s own private beach. It is perfection, and is located next to the lighthouse itself, right on the western tip of what was once the island of Tyr (Alexander the Great joined the island to the mainland via causeway back in 332BC in the midst of an epic siege). Our en-suite room overlooked the calm shores of the Mediterranean, was cockroach and playboy sheet free, and was just exactly what was needed.

The only downside with this perfect, perfect place, was when it came to leaving. We simply couldn’t. Over breakfast, the resident kittens trying their best to steal our zaatar and marmalade, the decision was made to stay an extra night. That meant we had the opportunity to check out the beach of Sour. Oh, what a beach.

If this place was located nearer to Beirut, it would be jam packed with drunken people, obnoxious, pumping bass, and general excess. Fortunately, there’s other places north of Beirut for that kind of thing, so Sour is left alone. The soft, golden sand stretches for a good half-mile around the gentle curve of the bay south of town, and played host to a a couple of cafes, some families paddling, some guys renting out kayaks and peddle boats, and us. On the distant headland, you could see the communication towers of Israel, and rich foliage, banana plantations, and date palms stretching all the way down to Lebanon’s neighbour. The water, warm like a bath, was shallow for a good hundred metres. It reminded me of a childhood vacation on an equally glorious sandy beach in Barbados. All I needed now was a fried flying fish sandwich, but fortunately I had shawarma and falafel to keep me satisfied.

Sour was a particular highlight in a trip back to Lebanon filled with spectacular highlights. Another gem in a country I thoroughly love, which is rich in history and culture, and somewhere less traveled, with it’s position in a volatile part of the world. To the south, there are sporadic firefights across the border fences, to the east, a civil war rages on, and in Lebanon itself, trouble is constantly seeming to brew. But that doesn’t stop the local people from living life to the full, enjoying the beauty of their country, and providing the warmest of welcomes to those outsiders who choose to land on its historic shores.

The Iran Garden – A little (and freaking bizarre) piece of Iran, overlooking Israel, from Lebanon

“It’s just so weird. It’s really not how I’d quite picture the Israel-Lebanon border”, explained Joanne. “I mean – there was a freaking play park there, and people were walking around eating ice cream and waving at the Israelis.” Indeed, calling an Iranian family picnic park with swings and climbing frames on a hill overlooking Iran’s biggest enemy weird is like calling the Himalayan mountains “pleasant looking” – the Iran Garden is the definition of weird. I had to go and see for myself.

The border between Lebanon and Israel – two countries still technically at war, and whose various militant organizations routinely take potshots at each other every so often, remains closed – and is unlikely to open at any point in the foreseeable future. Indeed, until 2000 Israel still occupied parts of southern Lebanon. Wildly differing ideologies, the ongoing Palestine situation, and plain old political hatred make this border one of the most patrolled areas in the world. UN cars, tanks, and blue helmet-clad peacekeeping forces were present in large numbers around the region. The conflict still continues sporadically, having begun in the year Israel was created, in 1948.

The beautiful hills of southern Lebanon felt about as far away from a conflict zone as you could have imagined. As we drove we were treated to views as far as the eye could see of terraced olive gardens straddling the slopes, old farm houses alongside, quaint villages, fruit stalls – and endless propaganda imagery of Lebanon’s Hezbollah – deemed a terrorist organization by many western nations, martyrs from various conflicts past, and also the green and red flags and banners marking the presence of an Iranian political party closely allied to the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Eventually, our rental car finished struggling its way up the steep slopes to a plateau on one gargantuan hill overlooking the surrounding area. There, we were met with the zenith of all the propaganda – a bloody great family garden, styled and donated by Iran. It has got to be one of the weird places I’ve ever visited on my travels.

Picture the scene: two countries that hate each other. One denies that the other even officially exists. The road signs leading up to Israel are marked “frontier of occupied Palestine” (in French) and there’s a Star of David on the ground of one of the viewpoints to step on, so what better activity to do on the hills overlooking enemy territory than to build a huge “fuck you” site to jeer and taunt your neighbour. It’s all very high school, very provocative – and all amazingly tranquil and family orientated at the same time.

The whole package is there: Restaurants, ice cream parlours, an AstroTurf football field, huge military-fashioned climbing frames all sit a couple of hundred meters from the border fence below, all to the soundtrack of nationalistic music, blaring out on loudspeakers, the sound waves bouncing off the Israeli hills on the other side.

Images of Iran’s Revolutionary leader – the late Ayatollah Khomeini, as well as current supreme leader Ali Khamenei, Hezbollah strongman Hassan Nasrallah, and a smattering of deceased martyrs for good measure plaster the scene, and the spectacular centre piece is a beautiful, Iranian style mosque, with Iranian flag flying proudly from the top of the dome. This really completes the image. Walking around here, amongst a huge majority of conservatively dressed Muslim families enjoying the sun and having barbecues, me – a big white guy with suspiciously Jewish looking hair and nose (for the record: I’m not Jewish) stuck out like a sore thumb. The whole place is one complete headfuck.

But at the same time it was extremely pleasant. There was no entrance fee, the restaurant was well priced, with a lovely view overlooking the manicured, agricultural land on the other side of the border, and families strolled along the paths together and enjoyed each others company. It was great, but extremely weird at the same time. A hilarious place.

I’d highly recommend a visit to the Iran Garden, if you ever happen to find yourself in Lebanon. If you can deal with the insanity that is Lebanese driving (think no rules, destruction derby style race track on crack and you’re getting close) then the site is just a couple of hours drive through truly wonderful countryside down to the Israeli border. I just hope one day I can visit the other side of the fence without screwing up my passport with Israeli visa stamps, then I can eat ice cream and wave at the Lebanese. Until then, I’ll have to be content with seeing the holy land from a picnic area whilst listening to noisy propaganda music.

Notes from a man in transit. Again.

There’s something quite enjoyable about being stuck in transit during a long voyage. I’ve been camping out in the terminal at Frankfurt Airport for the past few hours, killing time. I arrived here from Seattle, and between that I managed to sandwich a few hours of Chicago O’Hare in for good measure. And before Seattle, I had a coach trip down from Vancouver. All in all I have no idea what time I should think it is. My laptop says it’s 11am, my phone says it’s 8pm. For all I know I could be on Mars and time hasn’t been invented yet. I’m tired. I’ve had about two hours sleep in the past two days, and previous to that fleeting period of blissful shut-eye I had to sit down as I was starting to feel dizzy. No amount of crappy McDonalds coffee with illegal quantities of sugar and cream could help me. Nope, not even that. But the knowledge that in a few hours I’ll board my third and final flight and head on toward my fourth airport – Beirut – keeps me going.

So, where the hell does the enjoyability of all this come from? Well, for me the “getting there” part of traveling is just as much of an experience to relish as the destination itself. Yes, I could have spent an extra $500 and flown from Vancouver, to Frankfurt, to Beirut, but where’s the joy in that? No epic multi-day journey, no being dumped in downtown Seattle at 11pm on a Tuesday and finding your way to your Couchsurfing hosts, no joyous shooting-the-shit conversation with aforementioned friendly Turkish Couchsurfing host (who lives in Seattle), no random, “hey! Where are you from?” enthusiastic questions from passers by as you wander, fully laden with your belongings through the streets of Fremont (you’ve never been to Fremont, you have no idea where the hell you are), no finding a nice, quiet spot in the airport building to set up your sleeping mat and stolen Lufthansa pillow (flying Lufthansa? Procure a pillow – great for camping). Just nothing but the basic, routine plane journey. And for me, a $500 saving is pretty excellent, and relishing the satisfaction of getting to your final destination tired, bedraggled, smelling similar to that hobo who accosted you on the bus the other day, and knowing that you get to do it again in reverse in a few weeks time – is all pretty awesome. I will shower tomorrow.

I enjoy random transit meetings. I shared my two flights so far with Mohsen – an Iranian-American heading back to Tehran to visit his parents. It’s fun, meeting someone on a similar journey, hanging out for a while, swapping stories, and knowing that in just a few hours we will be thousands and thousands of miles away again. He’s now on his final flight to Tehran, I’ll be on my way to Beirut shortly, and the group of American kids I was chatting to in Chicago are now on another plane to Johannesburg. But for a few short hours, we shared that same space. And now we’re all weeks away from each other overland. Air travel is quite amazing. Just like that, we’re all in completely different places.

I cannot wait to get back to my destination – Beirut. I fell in love with the city, it’s refusal to die despite countless conflicts, sackings, wars, it’s defiant spirit against what ‘might’ go down next, it’s mixture of gorgeous restored architecture and battle-scarred, tumbledown buildings. It’s friendly, vibrant, free spirited people, amazing food, overflow of culture and history, it’s diverse landscape – mountains on one side, the sea on the other. It’s magical.

When I was living in Lebanon earlier this year, my parents took a trip out to visit. Familiar with my brother and my wanderings to various parts of the globe, this was no big deal for them, and it was great to spend time together in another new place. And my father told me how his father had been sent on a two-week vacation to Beirut back in the 1940s during World War II when he was serving in what was Palestine at the time. Apparently, he loved the place. I was following in his footsteps. I love the place too.

But, as usual, I’m rambling. Getting back on the road has been a breath of fresh air. I’d been getting itchy feet since the day I got back to Canada in April. It’s great to have my bag packed, dog-eared passport in my pocket, and a path of uncertainty in front of me again. There are no solid plans for this trip, aside from spending time with people who mean a great deal to me. I am aiming to do something towards raising some more money for Syrian refugees who fled their nation for the more peaceful pastures of Lebanon, and are struggling to get by. We’ll see what happens with that. Watch this space.

Tripoli, Lebanon. A beautiful, troubled city.

As I sat in a taxi navigating the streets of Beirut yesterday morning, I heard the distinct sound of Ezan – the call to prayer – emanating from the mosques around Lebanon’s capital. A few moments later, 80 kilometres north, two bombs went off at two separate mosques in the city of Tripoli. At current point, more than 40 people have been killed, and over 500 people have been wounded in the attack. At the time I was just mentioning to Victoria how I hadn’t heard anything in the news recently of Tripoli, and should we visit during this trip to Lebanon. With news of the bombings filtering through a few minutes later, the question was answered. It was sobering to hear, and sad to see. In March, we visited Tripoli on a couple of occasions. It’s a beautiful city, with a historic souk, and a towering citadel. It remains the same beautiful city, despite the troubled time it is going through. Here are some photos of Tripoli from our March visit:

I hope things get better there, and in this whole region, soon.

Larger versions of these photos, as well as other photos from my time in Lebanon, can be seen on my Flickr page.


Gelato fuelled stream of consciousness

It’s difficult trying to write something when you can’t think of anything to write about. I sit in a bustling cafe on a beautiful evening in North Vancouver with an empty “new post” window open, and – nothing. Friends watch the Vancouver Whitecaps Major League Soccer game against Pacific Northwest rivals the Portland Timbers, and I sit here on my laptop with a steaming mug of chamomile tea, fighting against the bandage on my finger to try and type. Earlier, clearing away the dishes in the kitchen, I snagged my left forefinger on the cutting blade for the tin foil. The result: blood everywhere. It’s funny how such a small cut can make doing the simplest of tasks more difficult.

The other twenty-something guy on his laptop in here has obviously finished or given up on what he was doing. He just packed his Macbook into a reusable shopping bag (nice resourcefulness) and left. To be fair, it is 9:01pm on a Saturday evening on a long weekend in August. He should probably be off to do something exciting, and for that matter – so should I. In fact, what the hell am I doing here? Surely, I should be drunk in a bar, or swimming in the ocean, camping, or generally spending some time with friends. I had options, but I’m feeling lazy tonight. I went out for a couple of drinks last night. I don’t drink a lot these days – ironic, seeing as a few months ago I was managing a bar in Lebanon – and so today has been spent in a slight haze. It’s no big deal though, I’m quite happy with the anonymity of sitting in a busy cafe with a laptop. It’s strangely soothing.

It’s a nice time of night. The sun has almost set over the horizon. Not that I can see the horizon, the buildings of Lonsdale Avenue block the view, but I can still see the sky – clear, perfect blue blended wonderfully into gold. If I was a couple of stories higher – looking out the bedroom window of  my apartment a block to the east for instance, I’d be able to see the silhouettes of the mountains. It’s a fantastic sight – no wonder Captain George Vancouver was so enamored by this place when he sailed here back in (checks Wikipedia) June 1792 (actually longer ago than I thought actually) during his expeditions. What a time it would have been to be alive. Discovering the new world, going to places so far flung they weren’t even named by the folks of ‘our’ world. To be the first one of a culture to step ashore in a new place. Those would have been truly amazing times.

So here I sit. The cafe has a truly spectacular array of gelato available. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I’ve never been to a cafe with such a huge selection of gelato. Not that I frequently spend my time hunting down world renowned frozen cream-based dessert outlets, but that wouldn’t be a bad past time.

It’s funny, I would say that I have better things to do than to search out the aforementioned gelato outlets, but I don’t actually. I’ve been back in Vancouver since April, it’s now August, and I’ve not felt hugely inspired since I got back to do any writing – let alone search out world class ice cream. I love writing, I decided I wanted to be a journalist when I was about 13 years old, and headed on that trajectory since then. But I became a little disillusioned by the industry since the mass takeover of the Internet. But I love my blog, and have enjoyed writing about my various escapades across the globe, but now I’m “home” again (not that I’m even from Canada) relative normality has returned. When I first moved here I’d blog every month about what wonderful things were happening in Vancouver.

Still, wonderful things do happen – I mean I actually get paid to go bloody hiking ten times a week! That’s pretty awesome. Who the hell gets paid to hike? But, as great as that is, living here is not the same, exciting new experience that it was the first few years I was here. It’s home, it’s comfortable, it’s easy. I suppose that’s just what happens when you become used to a place, no matter how amazing it is. I feel like a bird whose wings have been clipped. I’m ready to go off traveling again. To have the uncertainty of a destination, but no route planned to get there. To have the adventure. But circumstances don’t allow for now. The bank accounts need replenishing, life here needs to be lived. Eventually, I will fly again.

Another complication: I spent three years working towards getting my permanent residency in Canada. Now I have it. I’m a couple of years off being able to apply for my passport – to become a fully fledged Canadian. But I want to travel. It’s likely, that after the next 12 months pass, that I’ll leave again for a while. I want to take time out to explore more of the world, and to live in interesting places. Twelve months ago I had just moved to Armenia – I stayed six memorable and fantastic months, and then spent another three living in Lebanon. I reminisce daily about those times. I want more of them.

But for now, I need to hang around. Admittedly, I am off to Lebanon in less than three weeks for a visit. That will be a wonderful time I am sure. Re-immersing myself in one of the most ancient parts of the world, seeing cultures and religions collide, feeling so alive, seeing the military patrols everywhere, bullet-riddled buildings of Beirut, the ever present – all encompassing feeling that something “might” happen – but probably won’t. It’s an exciting place to be. I love it there, I constantly felt inspired being there, I feel so alive there, and I love the people I’ll be with when I am back.

And then I’ll be back in Vancouver again. Gorgeous, modern, seamless Vancouver. It really is an amazing city, and I’m constantly fascinated by how quickly it’s grown. 150 years ago it was little more than a forest. The whole place was covered in bloody great trees. Now, it’s an iconic jewel of the west coast. It’s a world class city – still with it’s share of bloody great trees. And it came from nowhere. I’m lucky to be able to live here.

And here’s another thing. I am lucky. I used to scoff at people who told me I was lucky to live here. Rubbish, I’d think – anyone can do it. Anyone can apply for a working holiday visa and come and live here, find friends, make a life, have a wonderful time. And yes, you can do that – if you have a western passport. How my thoughts on that changed, when I came face to face with people I became such great friends with who were less fortunate than I, and were born in countries deemed poorer, or less well connected than the UK. Compared to those poor souls – particularly my friends from Syria, who have had to face their historic country imploding at an alarming scale. There are now more than four million registered refugees from Syria. That’s the same as the whole population of Lebanon seeking refuge, and I have but a few friends among those people. Compared to them, I am lucky, I was born in the UK, and so have a passport that allows me free reign of pretty much anywhere in the world I please.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this point. I’m just writing, but it makes me sad that I feel that I can’t really do a lot to help my friends in need. With the help of the Internet, Victoria and I raised more than $2000 to help her family find a home in Lebanon, after their livelihoods were ruined by the Syrian war. That was amazing, but they’re far from out of the woods yet. I’ve spent many hours trawling the internet and speaking to people I’ve met, trying to help them find a way out of the situation. If only I could bring Victoria, and her whole family for that matter, to Canada, I would in a heartbeat. Even if it meant them all staying in my small North Vancouver apartment and helping support them all I would, but I can’t. Perhaps I can get Victoria here, if I can find her a job as a nanny, but that’s difficult. If she could do that, she could help support her whole family financially, and have a better life, but right now that route isn’t baring any fruit. It makes me feel helpless. One day I’ll get there.

So yes, I am lucky. I came to Canada on a whim, just because I could. Things worked out for me. I’d love to allow others to do the same. It really makes me appreciate my nationality.

It’s actually amazing what you can do when you just start to write. I’ve been feeling “writer’s block” for some time now, and having just spewed out this random stream of consciousness for the past twenty minutes I’ve now written almost 1,500 words. It’s good to get that kind of thing out. It’s a great way to clear the mind. Hell, I might even publish this (and of course, if you read this – I did).

The sun has now set over the horizon. Lonsdale Avenue is now bathed in the lights of the shops and cafes. The sky is no longer up to providing illumination. It’s quite relaxing being here, in this now empty cafe, with the epic gelato selection winking suggestively at me. Maybe I’ll try a scoop, or five, and then head home.