Sunday, August 31, 2008
All things must change, I guess. Even the Pledge of Allegiance existed for 62 years before the words "under God" were added to it after the Knights of Columbus lobbied President Eisenhower.
Why shouldn't an unkown beauty queen Governor from a rural state decide what should be taught in US schools?
After all, she opposes abortion for rape and incest victims and supported a non-binding referendum for a constitutional amendment to deny state health benefits to same-sex couples.
Come to think of it, I wouldn't want this woman guarding the Fancy Feasts; let alone being the VP to the oldest President in the history of the US (if McCain wins).
PS Plus she hunts animals!
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
BEIJING – Samia Yusuf Omar headed back to Somalia Sunday, returning to the small two-room house in Mogadishu shared by seven family members. Her mother lives there, selling fruits and vegetables. Her father is buried there, the victim of a wayward artillery shell that hit their home and also killed Samia’s aunt and uncle.
This is the Olympic story we never heard.
It’s about a girl whose Beijing moment lasted a mere 32 seconds – the slowest 200-meter dash time out of the 46 women who competed in the event. Thirty-two seconds that almost nobody saw but that she carries home with her, swelled with joy and wonderment. Back to a decades-long civil war that has flattened much of her city. Back to an Olympic program with few Olympians and no facilities. Back to meals of flat bread, wheat porridge and tap water.
“I have my pride,” she said through a translator before leaving China. “This is the highest thing any athlete can hope for. It has been a very happy experience for me. I am proud to bring the Somali flag to fly with all of these countries, and to stand with the best athletes in the world.”
There are many life stories that collide in each Olympics – many intriguing tales of glory and tragedy. Beijing delivered the electricity of Usain Bolt and the determination of Michael Phelps. It left hearts heavy with the disappointment of Liu Xiang and the heartache of Hugh McCutcheon.
But it also gave us Samia Yusuf Omar – one small girl from one chaotic country – and a story that might have gone unnoticed if it hadn’t been for a roaring half-empty stadium.
It was Aug. 19, and the tiny girl had crossed over seven lanes to find her starting block in her 200-meter heat. She walked past Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown – the eventual gold medalist in the event. Samia had read about Campbell-Brown in track and field magazines and once watched her in wonderment on television. As a cameraman panned down the starting blocks, it settled on lane No. 2, on a 17-year old girl with the frame of a Kenyan distance runner. Samia’s biography in the Olympic media system contained almost no information, other than her 5-foot-4, 119-pound frame. There was no mention of her personal best times and nothing on previous track meets. Somalia, it was later explained, has a hard time organizing the records of its athletes.
She looked so odd and out of place among her competitors, with her white headband and a baggy, untucked T-shirt. The legs on her wiry frame were thin and spindly, and her arms poked out of her sleeves like the twigs of a sapling. She tugged at the bottom of her shirt and shot an occasional nervous glance at the other runners in her heat. Each had muscles bulging from beneath their skin-tight track suits. Many outweighed Samia by nearly 40 pounds.
After introductions, she knelt into her starting block.
The country of Somalia sent two athletes to the Beijing Games – Samia and distance runner Abdi Said Ibrahim, who competed in the men’s 5,000-meter event. Like Samia, Abdi finished last in his event, overmatched by competitors who were groomed for their Olympic moment. Somalia has only loose-knit programs supporting its Olympians, few coaches, and few facilities. With a civil war tearing the city apart since the Somali government’s collapse in 1991, Mogadishu Stadium has become one of the bloodiest pieces of real estate in the city – housing U.N. forces in the early 1990s and now a military compound for insurgents.
That has left the country’s track athletes to train in Coni Stadium, an artillery-pocked structure built in 1958 which has no track, endless divots, and has been overtaken by weeds and plants.
“Sports are not a priority for Somalia,” said Duran Farah, vice president of the Somali Olympic Committee. “There is no money for facilities or training. The war, the security, the difficulties with food and everything – there are just many other internal difficulties to deal with.”
That leaves athletes such as Samia and 18-year old Abdi without the normal comforts and structure enjoyed by almost every other athlete in the Olympic Games. They don’t receive consistent coaching, don’t compete in meets on a regular basis and struggle to find safety in something as simple as going out for a daily run.
When Samia cannot make it to the stadium, she runs in the streets, where she runs into roadblocks of burning tires and refuse set out by insurgents. She is often bullied and threatened by militia or locals who believe that Muslim women should not take part in sports. In hopes of lessening the abuse, she runs in the oppressive heat wearing long sleeves, sweat pants and a head scarf. Even then, she is told her place should be in the home – not participating in sports.
“For some men, nothing is good enough,” Farah said.
Even Abdi faces constant difficulties, passing through military checkpoints where he is shaken down for money. And when he has competed in sanctioned track events, gun-toting insurgents have threatened his life for what they viewed as compliance with the interim government.
“Once, the insurgents were very unhappy,” he said. “When we went back home, my friends and I were rounded up and we were told if we did it again, we would get killed. Some of my friends stopped being in sports. I had many phone calls threatening me, that if I didn’t stop running, I would get killed. Lately, I do not have these problems. I think probably they realized we just wanted to be athletes and were not involved with the government.”
But the interim government has not been able to offer support, instead spending its cash and energy arming Ethiopian allies for the fight against insurgents. Other than organizing a meet to compete for Olympic selection – in which the Somali Olympic federation chose whom it believed to be its two best performers – there has been little lavished on athletes. While other countries pour millions into the training and perfecting of their Olympic stars, Somalia offers little guidance and no doctors, not even a stipend for food.
“The food is not something that is measured and given to us every day,” Samia said. “We eat whatever we can get.”
On the best days, that means getting protein from a small portion of fish, camel or goat meat, and carbohydrates from bananas or citrus fruits growing in local trees. On the worst days – and there are long stretches of those – it means surviving on water and Angera, a flat bread made from a mixture of wheat and barley.
“There is no grocery store,” Abdi said. “We can’t go shopping for whatever we want.”
He laughs at this thought, with a smile that is missing a front tooth.
When the gun went off in Samia’s 200-meter heat, seven women blasted from their starting blocks, registering as little as 16 one-hundredths of a second of reaction time. Samia’s start was slow enough that the computer didn’t read it, leaving her reaction time blank on the heat’s statistical printout.
Within seconds, seven competitors were thundering around the curve in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest, struggling to separate themselves from one another. Samia was just entering the curve when her opponents were nearing the finish line. A local television feed had lost her entirely by the time Veronica Campbell-Brown crossed the finish line in a trotting 23.04 seconds.
As the athletes came to a halt and knelt, stretching and sucking deep breaths, a camera moved to ground level. In the background of the picture, a white dot wearing a headband could be seen coming down the stretch.
Until this month, Samia had been to two countries outside of her own – Djibouti and Ethiopia. Asked how she will describe Beijing, her eyes get big and she snickers from under a blue and white Olympic baseball cap.
“The stadiums, I never thought something like this existed in the world,” she said. “The buildings in the city, it was all very surprising. It will probably take days to finish all the stories we have to tell.”
Asked about Beijing’s otherworldly Water Cube, she lets out a sigh: “Ahhhhhhh.”
Before she can answer, Abdi cuts her off.
“I didn’t know what it was when I saw it,” he said. “Is it plastic? Is it magic?”
Few buildings are beyond two or three stories tall in Mogadishu, and those still standing are mostly in tatters. Only pictures will be able to describe some of Beijing’s structures, from the ancient architecture of the Forbidden City to the modernity of the Water Cube and the Bird’s Nest.
“The Olympic fire in the stadium, everywhere I am, it is always up there,” Samia said. “It’s like the moon. I look up wherever I go, it is there.”
These are the stories they will relish when they return to Somalia, which they believe has, for one brief moment, united the country’s warring tribes. Farah said he had received calls from countrymen all over the world, asking how their two athletes were doing and what they had experienced in China. On the morning of Samia’s race, it was just after 5 a.m., and locals from her neighborhood were scrambling to find a television with a broadcast.
“People stayed awake to see it,” Farah said. “The good thing, sports is the one thing which unites all of Somalia.”
That is one of the common threads they share with every athlete at the Games. Just being an Olympian and carrying the country’s flag brings an immense sense of pride to families and neighborhoods which typically know only despair.
A pride that Samia will share with her mother, three brothers and three sisters. A pride that Abdi will carry home to his father, two brothers and two sisters. Like Samia’s father two years ago, Abdi’s mother was killed in the civil war, by a mortar shell that hit the family’s home in 1993.
“We are very proud,” Samia said. “Because of us, the Somali flag is raised among all the other nations’ flags. You can’t imagine how proud we were when we were marching in the Opening Ceremonies with the flag.
“Despite the difficulties and everything we’ve had with our country, we feel great pride in our accomplishment.”
As Samia came down the stretch in her 200-meter heat, she realized that the Somalian Olympic federation had chosen to place her in the wrong event. The 200 wasn’t nearly the best event for a middle distance runner. But the federation believed the dash would serve as a “good experience” for her. Now she was coming down the stretch alone, pumping her arms and tilting her head to the side with a look of despair.
Suddenly, the half-empty stadium realized there was still a runner on the track, still pushing to get across the finish line almost eight seconds behind the seven women who had already completed the race. In the last 50 meters, much of the stadium rose to its feet, flooding the track below with cheers of encouragement. A few competitors who had left Samia behind turned and watched it unfold.
As Samia crossed the line in 32.16 seconds, the crowd roared in applause. Bahamian runner Sheniqua Ferguson, the next smallest woman on the track at 5-foot-7 and 130 pounds, looked at the girl crossing the finish and thought to herself, “Wow, she’s tiny.”
“She must love running,” Ferguson said later.
Several days later, Samia waved off her Olympic moment as being inspirational. While she was still filled with joy over her chance to compete, and though she knew she had done all she could, part of her seemed embarrassed that the crowd had risen to its feet to help push her across the finish line.
“I was happy the people were cheering and encouraging me,” she said. “But I would have liked to be cheered because I won, not because I needed encouragement. It is something I will work on. I will try my best not to be the last person next time. It was very nice for people to give me that encouragement, but I would prefer the winning cheer.
She shrugged and smiled.
“I knew it was an uphill task.”
And there it was. While the Olympics are often promoted for the fastest and strongest and most agile champions, there is something to be said for the ones who finish out of the limelight. The ones who finish last and leave with their pride.
At their best, the Olympics still signify competition and purity, a love for sport. What represents that better than two athletes who carry their country’s flag into the Games despite their country’s inability to carry them before that moment? What better way to find the best of the Olympic spirit than by looking at those who endure so much that would break it?
“We know that we are different from the other athletes,” Samia said. “But we don’t want to show it. We try our best to look like all the rest. We understand we are not anywhere near the level of the other competitors here. We understand that very, very well. But more than anything else, we would like to show the dignity of ourselves and our country.”
She smiles when she says this, sitting a stone’s throw from a Somalian flag that she and her countryman Abdi brought to these Games. They came and went from Beijing largely unnoticed, but may have been the most dignified example these Olympics could offer.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Everyone was so proud of their country...what they have achieved economicaly in such a short period of time, what they have achieved culturally over their country's history, and what they have achieved in the medal count at the 2008 Olympics.
As my friend Mika said in her blog on Aug 14th (http://www.mika-ryan.blogspot.com/), the Chinese people are not 'brainwashed' and honestly don't unerstand why the world sees them in a bad light. All the average person in Beijing wants is to have a better life for their children plus health, wealth, and happiness for themselves, their friends, and their families.
No matter what you may feel about the Chinese government and it's internal or foreign policies, don't lose track of the fact that the average person on the street in Beijing is very much like the average person in Vancouver. They want to have nice things, they want to eat good food, they want to drink clean water, they like spending time with their friends, and they want to fall in love.
To paraphrase Sting:
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us me and you
Is that the Chinese love their children too
Friday, August 22, 2008
The Big-Cat has come home from Beijing and is teaching me how to speak a little bit of Mandarin (which is all he knows).
knee-how = hello
zai-jen = goodbye
duay = yes
boo-yao = no
shay-shay = thank you
wo-ting boo-dong = I don't understand
mow = cat (I'm not kidding)
There was also a popular verb (bo-cog) created by Westerners for the Olympics which is an acronym of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games. Bo-cog is roughly translated as "sorry if you got screwed, but that is a price you pay for doing business in China".
A couple of uses:
- McDonalds was bo-cogged when they built a huge restaurant in the Olympic Green area before they found out that no one without a ticket to an event that day would be let into the Green (restaurant usage was about 25% of what was estimated).
- That not-as-cute little girl was bo-cogged when she was not able to be seen during the opening ceremonies (even though she recorded the song).
- Some citizens of Beijing were bo-cogged when their house and neighborhood were moved so the Chinese government could build the Bird's Nest Stadium.
I wonder what Van-ocked will mean?
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Philip Boit is met on the finish line by Bjorn Daehlie
Kenyan cross country skier Philip Boit has gained the respect of his fellow Olympians, despite coming a resounding last amongst the finishers of the 10km cross country race (note that he finished ahead of six skiers who gave up during the race).
The 26-year-old Kenyan, who only saw snow for the first time two years ago, finished the course in 47 minutes 25.25 seconds, almost exactly 20 minutes slower than the gold medallist Bjorn Daehlie (who had enough time to do post-race interviews and clean his skis before heading to the finish line to wait for Boit).
When Daehlie met Boit at the finish line, Daehlie urged him to pursue his career. "He deserves to be encouraged. It was hard for him but he never gave up," said Daehlie, who had just made Winter Olympic history by winning his sixth gold medal.
Boit, who missed two weeks of training when he had to go into hospital last month with a stomach complaint, was fortunate not to be disqualified when he broke into a skating style on the uphill sections.
Course officials followed him home and he broke into an arm-pumping display of energy as the Japanese fans cheered him home over the last 200 metres.
"My goal, my aim, is to become a world or Olympic champion. I'm dreaming about becoming the first African to do it. I will do it," he said.
"When you start something you have to give your best and by competing against all these great champions I get experience, I learn their secrets".
But, in my humble opinion, an even more amazing thing was watching Roqaya Al-Gassra from Bahrain run the 200m Women's semi-final. She didn't win, in fact, she finished 6th in her semi-final heat and did not qualify for the final that was to be run on Thursday evening. Roqaya missed qualifying for the final by only 12/100ths of a second. What I find amazing about Roqaya is that she runs in a full hijab...especially since Bahrain does not require its athletes to compete in traditional Muslim garb, but Roqaya Al-Gassra chooses to wear the full hijab while she is sprinting against the best women in the world.
She had won her quarter final heat in the 200 meter dash on Tuesday and she says she wears the full hijab as a personal choice. “Wearing the hijab shows that there are no obstacles,” she said. “I’ve set my best times wearing the hijab.”
She wears the hijab to respect her religion and her customs. She wears it because she chooses to; and that is what the Olympic ideal is all about.
Keep in mind, the Olympic moto is Citius, Altius, Fortius (Swifter, Higher, Stronger)...and it's not just about being Swifter, Higher, Stronger than everyone else in the world... but it is really about being Swifter, Higher, Stronger than you were yesterday; Swifter, Higher, Stronger than the perceptions of your society; or Swifter, Higher, Stronger than whatever limits have been placed on you (or limits you have placed on yourself). And Roqaya demonstrates all of these goals.
Despite her not making the final of the 200m, Roqaya is truly Swifter, Higher, Stronger.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
The Big Cat is going to have a long day tomorrow. He has to go through the brand new Terminal 3 at Beijing Capital Airport. Terminal 3 is big. Like, really big. This one terminal is larger than London Heathrow's five terminals combined! I hope he doesn't get lost.
I will be waiting by the door patiently. I have prepared a little lecture for him. But, I'll give him a couple of minutes before I start my scolding.
See you tomorrow, Big Cat. Bring a present!
Monday, August 18, 2008
As of this morning, China has won 38 Gold medals and at every medal ceremony, their national anthem is played and the Chinese flag is hoisted.
Today I got up and decided to discover why the Chinese Flag has one big star and 4 little stars.
The colour red symbolizes the spirit of the revolution, and the five stars signify the unity of the people of China (the four little stars representing peasants, workers, bourgeoisie, and capitalists) under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (the big star).
I think the flag looks pretty...then again, I do look good in red.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Well, the Big-Cat is leaving today to go to Beijing to see the Middle-Cat. He's going to be gone a week. Two of the big-cats' nieces will be dropping by to make sure I'm okay...to me they are known as "Nellie the whisker puller" and "Brenna the tail puller"; or at least that's what I tell the big-cats ;)
In order to bribe me to be nice while he's gone, the Big-Cat has left three Fancy Feasts for his nieces to give me while he's gone (I'm not counting the fourh one that I ate last night...that was just a regular Tuesday in my books).
So there are only three Fancy Feasts for eight days...doesn't seem fair. Anyone that wants to help a poor little-cat down on her luck, please send treats or Fancy Feasts (or birdies with bad wings) c/o the Hagels.
I even made up a sign to help out.
PS At least I'l be able to get some sleep.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
The first two have been getting a lot of press:
1) The cuter little girl that lip-synced the national anthem sung by the little girl with the crooked teeth during the opening ceremonies,
2) The "fireworks" representing the footsteps to the Bird's Nest stadium that were digitally added during the opening ceremonies.
But no one seems to be talking about another thing that the Chinese govenment did during the run up to the summer games; in order to bring a more youthful look to China.
What I am talking about is the iconic grown white cat with the raised paw that is on display in a lot of shops and restaurants to bring good luck to the places of business.
Very quietly, this grown cat has been replaced by a cuter white kitten (see picture showing both the former and the new good luck cats).
As a cat who is a bit long in the whiskers, I find this bit of ageism offensive. I thought is was only in North America that long-time, loyal partners were replaced by versions that look 1/2 their age.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Eoghan is one of my favorite nephews (by that I mean that have I hissed at him less than any other nephew...but that may be only because he is my youngest nephew).
Eoghan likes yellow, trucks, pirates, soccer (aka football), his cousins, and chocolate (not necessarily in that order).
All of these things were well represented at his birthday party and his dad cooked up a great dinner for everyone who attended.
The only downside to Eoghan's party is that his aunt Josie (aka the Middle-Cat) was not able to attend because she was in Beijing.
Eoghan did promise the Big-Cat that he saved a hug for aunt Josie for when she got back home.
While I didn't get a Fancy Feast while the Big-Cat was gone to the party, I was able to catch up on almost 7 hours of sleep; which made me very happy.
Friday, August 8, 2008
Svein is a guy that went cycling with his dog for a couple years (towing him in a home built trailer) because the two of them wanted to see BC and the west coast of North America.
He never really planned to be an Olympic athlete; in fact he never intended to be great at what he does...he just became great.
He may not win today's race, but he is a champion in my mind.
Here's his story if you want to read it
Well, it's 8-8-08 today and the 29th modern Olympics opened in Beijing (I think the Middle-Cat is over there organizing the games).
The Big-Cat just taped the opening ceremonies and we watched it (taped delayed) while eating dinner (with Lainey Gossip inspired chow mein).
It was quite the spectacle, and I really liked the drums and the guys in neon outfits covered in tiny light bulbs. It was pretty cool, but there was a serious lack of cats during the ceremonies.
The Big-Cat told me that he was going to visit the Middle-Cat in Beijing in six days and that he would bring me back a souvenier.
I hope that he brings me back a Fancy Feast; which is how I celebrated the opening ceremonies (see below).
Thursday, August 7, 2008
I love to sleep.
I don't think of it as being lazy, I think of sleeping as restorative and rejuvenating.
Even though I am old enough to get a Class 7 driver's license in Alberta, I'm still spry enough to run around and chase birdies, string, and the occasional toe.
I have been know to sleep all day, get up to eat, then go back to sleep.
Weekends are always tough on me. The big-cats are usually home, and they make so much noise that I can't get my 22 hours of daily sleep. I like it best when they go out all day and then come home with crinkly plastic bags and Fancy Feasts.
The only bad thing about sleeping? It sometimes gets in the way of my naps.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Over a year ago, the Big-Cat went in a panic to Home Depot to buy the last awning they had in stock so that he could put it over the back door to enable him to barbeque in the winter time without getting wet.
The Big-Cat was concerned that if the awning wasn't put up correctly, it would fall down on someone's (his) head.
He asked his friend Dave how he put up his own awning. Dave explained that he used lag bolts to bolt a 2-by-6 to the frame of the house...then bolting the awning to th 2-by-6....but that the lag bolts needed to go into the wall studs, so you needed to somehow look under the siding to find the studs....so the awning sat in the Big-Cat's garage for the next year.
Fast-forward to BC day, 2008 and the Big-Cat decided that since it is the "Summer of Chris" (that's the Big-Cat's human name) it would be time to throw caution to the wind and put up the awning.
Well, for the better part of two days, the Big-Cat has been very busy with his awning project.
Yesterday he had the awning up (in a different location) only to discover that he was missing the four screws that attach the arms to the awning; but that didn't really matter since he had put the awning up in a place where one of the arms would have been attached to the house in the middle of the glass pane of the sliding patio door. Let's just say I heard some human words that I don't often hear (I'm still looking up one of the words in the dictionary). And with that (after saying goodbye to his friend Kingie who he had been talking with via IM), he left the house to go to the Turner's house (nice people, they have two cats) for dinner
So this morning, the Big-Cat decided to take down everything he had done yesterday and move the 2-by-6 over to the left and about 6 feet higher; but he was faced with a dilema...how to put up the 2-by-6 and the awning (which weighs about 50 pounds) that high up on the house.
Well after a trip to the hardward store, the Big-Cat set up a rope system using the Big Cat's bed as a pully and then he threw the two ends of the looped rope out of the window...then tied one end to the 2-by-6 and then pulled the other end of the rope to raise the 2-by-6 up to the required height. Then using a ladder under the other end of the 2-by-6 he climbed up and bolted that end to the wall...then moved the ladder and bolted the rope-end of the 2-by-6 to the wall (and then added several other lag bolts in the middle). The 2-by-6 was now firmly attached to the house...and in the correct spot.
Then the big-cats' friends Laura and Colleen (from Molly Maids) arrived and the Big-Cat told them that they couldn't go in the Master Bedroom for about 20 minutes while he used his pully-system to haul the awning up like he had done with the 2-by-6. They looked surprised but agreed to stay out of his way.
The awning eventually was put in place and then the Big-Cat discovered that he didn't have the right screws to attach the arms to the wall, so he went back to the hardware store (during the time he was gone, Colleen and Laura chased me around with the vaccuum and tried to pull my whiskers...I hissed at them a couple times and hid under the bed until the Big Cat arrived back home).
He then bolted the arms to the wall and unrolled the awning only to be less than awed with the size of it.
It will only just cover the barbeque...I think he wishes the arms were longer.
PS And to think this all would have been unneccessary if the big-cats just ate Fancy Feast in the winter ( like I plan to) instead of barbequing.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
First, my middle-cat said that she is going there for a month; and now my big-cat is going there for a little over a week.
The Big Cats told me that I wouldn't like it...they told me that it's a very long plane ride away, there's lots of air pollution, that over 7.5-million people live in the Beijing urban core alone (is that more than two? that is how many Big Cats I live with), and there is going to be a lot of fireworks while they are there (which I must admit, scare me).
But if my Big Cats are going, I'm sure it will be fun for me.
Look, I'm already packed...I've got my Fancy Feasts, my box of sand, and my tent (see previous blog on April 23/08) already packed.
Big-cat, what time do we leave?
Saturday, August 2, 2008
Since the middle-cat is in Beijing this month, I had to read the paper by myself; but with no one to turn the pages for me, it was nowhere near as much fun for me.
The big-cat tried to help me out by reading the paper this morning, but I could tell he was only going through the motions. He only read one setion (Travel..about Beijing) and sat on the couch while he was reading it.
Come back soon middle-cat, I miss you.
Friday, August 1, 2008
Well, my middle-cat is in Beijing for the next month and I already miss her. The big-cat tried to make me feel better by giving me a Fancy Feast last night, but now that is gone too.
I have attached a picture of the national stadium in Beijing; affectionately known as Bird's Nest Stadium. The stadium is very large and can seat as many as 91,000 spectators during the Olympics.
It makes me wonder how big the birds that built it are.