In Chicoutimi (Catchup blog 4 of 4)

A few weeks ago, I was in Saguenay working on a couple of stories. Sitting in the ruins of the old Pulperie on a sunny day, I wrote this little reflection on my upcoming immigration limbo:


In Chicoutimi on business

I stand on a viaduct

overlooking La Petite Maison Blanche

and a skate park.

A shirtless kid, white as a fish’s belly, rides a rail

And his wheels hit the ground with a crack.

I’m reminded of the skate park in the bud-shaped shadow of the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg! As distant as Jupiter, but still…here.

It dawns on me that I’ve seen more of this country than that kid, who was born here, probably has…and much more of this country than I ever have of my own.

Where else could home be but here?

That is, if such a thing as home exists

For someone like me.



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When the letters stopped (catchup blog 2 of 4)

Despite all of the blood, sweat and tears in Winnipeg, I did meet some people who I liked and respected deeply. One person in particular, who I knew from work (I’ll call him Bruno) left an impression on me. We had an unusual relationship, conditioned partly by the pressure cooker of working in a small newsroom, where three or four people did the work of seven or eight, and partly by being two very atypical people in a community where the walls had eyes. Sometimes we would argue– I did cry in his office on more than one occasion. We shared our fears. Sometimes we would go out for pizza and talk about our personal philosophies and favourite secondhand store finds as if we’d known each other for decades. He saw me off at the train station when I went back east, and drew a pencil sketch of me in men’s formalwear that I treasure to this day. He keeps his own internet use to a strict minimum, but I hope if he sees these lines, he won’t feel as if his closely guarded privacy has been violated.

Once I moved back out east, he would call me or write me, once or twice a month at most.  In March, the letters stopped, and I just assumed he was busy.

Recently I was in Quebec City for a few meetings. One of my close friends from Winnipeg had moved to Quebec City, and I had hired her to do a bit of freelance writing for a project I worked on. The project lead wanted to meet her in person.

When she arrived, the project lead was busy, and so she and I went into another office and started catching up, putting our heads together like schoolgirls. “How’s Bruno?” I asked.

“You haven’t heard? He had a stroke.”

I lost a beat. My first thought was, “Oh no, not another Guyot.”

Jean-Claude Guyot was my supervisor when I was working on my master’s degree in Belgium. He had made many trips to Burundi, and once I mentioned to him that I’d worked there, I was immediately in his good books. He was also a breaker of moulds. Where other Belgian professors, and even teaching assistants, seemed to walk around with steel rods up their spines, to put it politely, and acted almost offended when students asked questions, Guyot wasn’t afraid to backslap or high-five people, to tease, to reassure or to engage in long conversations on equal terms. Half admirative and half mocking, our Belgian classmates called him tonton (uncle) Guyot. Around the time of the 2015 coup in Burundi, I wanted to work with him on a radio capacity building fundraising project. He said he would see what he could do. Then I heard very little. Since the Belgian academic year ends in late June, I just assumed he was busy. Six weeks later I saw a link pop up on my Facebook feed– Guyot’s obituary.

Guyot, my old colleague Jean-Claude B. from Burundi, my old boss Vincent, Bélinda…Melissa, my best friend’s ex who died mysteriously in her sleep when we were 21…not to mention the two people who I learned I could have lost.  If I didn’t hear from those people within a month, I would have just assumed they were busy…I learned almost by accident that they were in difficulty. Not again if I can help it, and certainly not with Bruno. I emailed him as soon as I could, and three hours later his name showed up on my call display. We had an actual conversation two days later– he had had a minor stroke, he had lost some mobility in his left side, but he was definitely himself. To say I was relieved is an understatement– I had that same shaky feeling you get when you stand safely on the pavement after almost getting knocked into the next block by a cyclist.

After that incident, I started writing and leaving phone messages to people I hadn’t spoken to in months or years. I had two great conversations with people whose voices I hadn’t heard in a long time and who I’d begun to worry about. I felt a bit stupid saying, “I was worried you were dead!” so I just said “Checking in, sorry it’s been so long.”

I’m still not used to being at a stage of life where your friends start to pass away.

I am the queen of long silences. My father has been known to call every once in a while to make sure I’m still alive. Before this week, I hadn’t written in this blog for four whole months. So this is a bit rich, coming from me. Very rich, in fact. But if someone you’ve been corresponding with disappears…check in.

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The Other Side of Ableism

I will just leave this here.


 Internalized Ableism

by Maria R. Palacios

Internalized ableism is

believing the lies we have been told about our bodies,

believing that nobody will love us or want us,

believing we are damaged

and broken

because others have said we are.

Internalized ableism is

negating ourselves the right to say no,

denying ourselves the right to say yes

or saying yes when we should say no,

or saying no when we should say yes

because we’ve been made afraid to trust


Internalized ableism is

the thick extra layer of skin we grow

in order to not get wounded

by the voices that say we’re imperfect, and worthless

and undesirable.

It is staying silent

to comments made without thinking

or made while thinking it’s ok

because we believe them too.

Internalized ableism is

allowing others to define our truths

and explaining our bodies

as an apology….as a mistake.

It is that…

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The Vulture Paradox (catchup blog 1 of 3)

On the one hand, I’m very surprised that I haven’t written in these pages since Bremen. On the other hand, I’m not.

I came back from the Aquarius at the very end of July of last year (can’t believe it was a full year ago!), had two small contracts right off the bat, and then went to a few festivals to enjoy summer in Montreal.  Then I spent a very long, long winter in freelance purgatory. Until the very unsettling early morning of January 30.

As anyone who was in the province at the time will know, on the freezing night of January 29, a  young Quebec-born man walked into Quebec City’s largest mosque, the Centre culturel islamique de Québec in Ste-Foy, and opened fire, killing six people and injuring 19. The six dead were all middle-aged men, immigrants from Morocco, Algeria or Guinea.  The suspect was a 27-year-old university student who was apparently inspired by  the French Front National party, driven to take those ideas to an extreme. Police sirens spinning in the night through frozen mist, an electric shock through everything, sitting in the dark (can’t remember why I was sitting in the dark) until one or two in the morning as information started to flood in. The morning after, at about 6:30 in the morning, I get a call from a researcher at ABC News in New York who found me on Google.

“Are you in Quebec City?”

“No, I’m in Montreal, but from a professional standpoint this kills me because I want to help you.”

“When can you be in Quebec City?”

“I don’t know, three or four hours from now?”

“OK, my crew won’t be here until later this afternoon. Get there!”

So there I was, back to working as a researcher, in Quebec City in the dead of winter, feeling my way around the hole in my city while ushering around a few underdressed, harassed, but very professional and friendly American reporters.

It was my first real experience with the Vulture Paradox*. On one hand, an adrenaline-pumping assignment, lots of learning about the job, one of the best CV lines you could want, and two months’ rent for two days of work, not to mention a chance to use my own insider knowledge and a birds’ eye view (link in French) of a community coming together after tragedy. On the other hand, six people were killed, and you could almost see the shock and pain ripple through the city I love most in the world.

*(For those non-journalists who don’t know what the Vulure Paradox is…it’s named for the iconic, terrifying photograph of the starving child in Sudan being eyed by a hungry vulture. The image was taken by a South African photographer named Kevin Carter, and it made his career– it even won him a Pulitzer Prize– but the doubt over whether he could have done more to help the girl, instead of just shooting her suffering, eventually contributed to his suicide.  As a journalist, especially a freelancer, tragedies are your bread and butter. You swing into action and often produce your best work when other people are dead or suffering, in shock or in mourning, and to put it in the bluntest possible way, more tragedies mean more work, more prestige and more income. Even when the contradictions are far less stark and painful than those that Carter faced, it’s a delicate balance.)

After two days spent booking guests for ABC in Quebec City, I popped back down to Montreal, got my adapter and a few extra Euros, and flew off to Germany where I spent three days reminiscing and helping refine strategies for SOS Méditerranée.

When I got back, things started to unblock, like ice cracking in spring. A logistics contract for an Indigenous film festival, research for a documentary, increased responsibilities with a magazine project that I’d already been working on for a long time, a few pitches accepted and several other new clients, and old clients popping up to throw me commissions or calls for pitches. “Every email you’ve written up to now is a seed,” said an older, wiser freelancer when she read my 15th negative comment in a networking group; now I have to concede that she’s right.  I’ve been rushing almost nonstop since February, with trips to Quebec City, Ottawa and Saguenay, and I have another couple of trips coming up. The only reason I have the opportunity to write such a long blog entry at all is that everyone seems to be on vacation, and my laptop, which has several works in progress on it, is getting repairs done to its screen. Repos forcé!

There are two other catch-up blog entries where this one came from; stay tuned. If you’re curious about what I’ve been doing professionally — covering homelessness, drug policy, food security and a surprising amount of history — see my portfolio here.







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Dust to dust

I’m currently in Bremen, Germany, at a conference on Mediterranean migration. It’s quite a time for a migration conference, what with Donald Trump’s refugee ban, European countries making noises about paying off Libya to stop irregular migration and the shooting by an apparent white supremacist at a mosque in Quebec City (yes, Québec City!) that took the lives of six immigrants. More on that later.

But I did want to post this first. These are 12th-century bishop’s shoes from the Bremen cathedral museum. Once cloth-of-gold, now barely recognizable brownish gold dust held together by specialized lighting.

All human endeavour will look like this someday– that is, in the unlikely event it’s preserved. For every pair of preserved golden boots, thousands of slippers probably disintegrated.

So we’d better make the best of everything while it lasts.




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Townshipslaining the PM

Primarily of interest to English-speaking Quebecers…My colleague Ross Murray’s take on the Justin Trudeau Sherbrooke town hall debacle.

English-speaking Quebec does not just equal Montreal.


Drinking Tips for Teens

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a town hall in Sherbrooke, Que. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a town hall in Sherbrooke, Que. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Oh, hi there, Prime Minister Trudeau, or as we say here in the Townships, “hi there.”

You see, Justin (may I call you Justin? I think I may), the Eastern Townships is a pretty easygoing place when it comes to the whole English-French thing. Certainly we’ve had our battles – sign complaints, bilingual status debates, health care access. But for the most part, even during difficult times, both linguistic communities have been fairly even-tempered, dare I say cooperative.

Just ask around, and by that, I mean ask the endless stream of your political peers who have stood before English audiences over the years and reminded them of how tolerant and open this community is – as if we needed reminding from politicians, whose goal is actually to demonstrate how tolerant and open

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A big blue map!

While looking at the personal website of a potential source, I discovered this really cool embedded map app that allows you to highlight every place you’ve visited. Unfortunately, unlike the late, great Facebook “Where I’ve Been” map app, there’s no place to put places you want to go or places you’ve lived vis places you’ve passed through, and countries like the US, Canada, Brazil,the UK etc aren’t divided into provinces. But it’s still fun. I wonder what the next country I fill in will be? 😉

Ruby Irene Pratka’s Travel Map

Ruby Irene Pratka has been to: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, Burundi, Belarus, Canada, Switzerland, Serbia and Montenegro, Cuba, Estonia, Spain, Ethiopia, Finland, France, United Kingdom, Croatia, Haiti, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Latvia, Morocco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Serbia, Russia, Rwanda, Slovenia, Ukraine, United States.
Get your own travel map from Matador Network.

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