(Part 2 of OH CANADA!)
I woke up scratching my eyes, still half asleep. I felt a sharp pain in my left eye and had a sinking feeling in my chest, "I forgot I've been wearing contacts." I shuffled myself upright on the bench and looked through my backpack to find the case. A murky little bit of contacts solution was all I had left in the container, but it would do to preserve them until I could find a pharmacy. Unwittingly, I stuck my dirty fingers into my left eye to retrieve the lens and stop the pain. For whatever reason, probably just sheer stupidity, I left my glasses back in Guatemala with plans to wear contacts while in Canada. Knowing that I would have a hard time getting around without both lenses, I kept the right lens in to be able to read signs and bus routes. So, with one eye open and the other half shut and watering, I collected my stuff and set out to meet the day. It was pretty early. My phone was out of charge, but I got the sense the devout tradespeople and white-collar go-getters were on their way to grab their morning coffees and begin their commutes.
Astonishingly, my heart felt full. I thanked God for having a family that loves me and a regular roof over my head. But from this initial state of gratitude, I turned to grief. I found a restaurant where I could plug in my phone and sip a warm coffee. I looked around, put my head down, and began to weep. I couldn't control myself. I was overtired, and the previous day was filled with all sorts of sights of addiction and homelessness. It was a front-row, fully interactive seat to BC's serious drug problem. Homelessness immersion 101.
I wept for the pregnant 17-year-old I had seen strung out. She was multitasking, asking for change while collecting cigarette butts and smoking them. I cried for her parents. And then I continued to cry, thinking of those I know back in Guatemala who would give anything to have a shot at the countless work opportunities I had seen the same day. I am thankful for my many blessings.
As the opioid and drug crisis continues to grow in Canada and has now expanded its tentacles from downtown cores into the suburbs, it is evident that it is becoming harder and harder to ignore. While many look to the government for solutions, I believe the place to be looked at is how we govern our time as individuals. "Do I know someone that is struggling with addiction? What is something small I can do today to encourage recovery?"
I didn't stay long. I felt somewhat embarrassed at what a mess I was. I continued on foot, came to a hotel with my bags, and sat in the lobby. I looked out the window as if waiting for someone, hoping I wouldn't be asked what I was doing there. My decision to wear my Sunday best on the trip began to pay off. I began to feel that nobody cared and spotted a plug-in. I knelt by the wall to charge and call Christina to let her know I was ok. When she answered, I started all over again. I broke down!! I was eventually able to explain my thoughts and the weird gratitude-heart brokenness combo. She told me she was trying to find a ride for me on Facebook marketplace, but scammers and creeps flooded her inbox. I decided to resign from the hitchhiking idea, at least until Kelowna. The police officers from the night before had given me a stern warning and then asked me quite nicely as I departed their cruiser to please not try again. I would be able to bus or take a flight if worse came to worse. After reluctantly saying goodbye and ending the comforting call, I took the SkyTrain back to the airport, where I had arrived just 17 hours prior. I enquired about "standby" tickets and prices. The Vancouver SkyTrain's familiarity, smell, and whirring continued to bring back old memories of when I was 18. I was just out of high school and commuting daily to work using transit. "I wonder if I sat in this same seat before," I thought.
Flights: 670$ to Kelowna or Castlegar that day. Forget it.
Bus: fully booked for the day.
I sat in the bus station, trying to devise another move while nursing my eye with a flush of saline from the pharmacy.
The bus station in Vancouver is a majestic shared building with the train station. The interior gives off a feeling of a cross between a hospital and a museum. Wait, trains hadn't occurred to me! A voice came over the loud intercom, saying, "All Via Rail passengers bound towards Jasper, Toronto, please board!"
I walked over to the Via Rail sales counter and enquired about tickets heading west. "The first stop is Kamloops," the vendor said.
"Is it leaving right now???! I'll take a ticket!"
"We're all sold out."
I almost didn't care.
I just wanted to sleep anyway. As hard as they were, the big wooden benches now looked like pretty good nap spots. But right as I was walking away, I heard a Grampa-ish voice call over and explained to the Train-ee that there were, in fact, a lot of seats, as long as I was ok with Economy Class.
"Am I ok with Economy Class?" This grandpa did not know me, or perhaps my Sunday best clothes were starting to work too well. Either way, by paying close attention to his job and detail, this man gave me a way out of somewhere I felt trapped.
I settled into the comfortable train and finally removed my right contact with my freshly sanitized hands. This was beautiful. I nursed my left eye a bit more with my little bottle of saline and was sound asleep within 10 minutes. It may have been Economy Class, but this was First Class Napping. I was going somewhere in my sleep!
The ticket man woke me up and told me it was time for me to get off the train. We had reached Kamloops. I looked out the window and saw it was pitch black and raining.
"Do you know what time is it?" I asked.
I collected my things in a daze but was quickly woken up by the cold rain once I stepped off the train. I was about 20 cars away from the station. I put the oversized bag on my head to shield me as much as possible from the rain. "Where is this?!" I thought.
As I approached "the station" I began to see it was just a little house in the middle of a train yard. It felt far from town. There were a few guys in their early 20s waiting for me. "You got your bags?" One asked. "Yes, thank you, all good. How far of a walk is it to downtown?"
They laughed. "About 2 hours."
These guys seemed only to be there to show people in, retrieve luggage, and then leave. I also felt they had smoked a lot of weed while waiting for the train to arrive. I asked about taxis, and they told me it was a 25-30 minute cab ride into town. Once they knew my next target was Kelowna, one of them told me there was a 6:00am bus I could catch downtown. I looked around the room: no pay phone, no wifi, in the middle of a train yard and a 2-hour walk from the bus station that would now be closed. A baseboard heater caught my eye. "Do you mind if I wait here until the morning and just sleep in here?" I asked. "That's fine. Just lock the door behind you when you leave".
"Would you be kind enough to order me a cab to arrive here for 5am?"
(Just in case any of you are in Kamloops sometime need the number to the taxi services that don't answer their phones.)
The young man seemed anxious about how long this was taking but obliged. He tried two calls but had no luck with Yellow Cabs or Kami! On the third try, he began talking, but something didn't feel honest about the conversation. "Ok, done; 5:00, they'll be here".
I didn't care. That baseboard heater looked like an excellent nap companion. I was as ready for them to leave as they were to get home. I found the heat dial on the wall as soon as they exited and I cranked to the highest setting it to dry off. I cozied beside my new baseboard-heater-bedmate under a bench with my 28 lbs of coffee as a pillow. It wasn't long before I drifted off for a second night without a bed.
My alarm went off at 4:55. I sat outside with the door propped open. Not surprisingly, no taxi showed up, it was brisk, and I was chilly for the 15-20 minutes I waited. Then, I excitedly snuggled back with my warm friend, Mrs. Baseboard Heater. I slept for a few more hours until around 7:30. I was grateful for the Guatemalan chocolate bars Chrissy had packed for me to give to friends. I ate 2, chewed on some coffee beans, and drank the last of my bottled water. With breakfast out of the way, I could now begin my walk.
2 hours!! The boys had told me the direction that the cab would be showing up from the night before. I headed that way, but I must say to you now that neither one of my eyes was doing good at this point, not to mention my hands were filthy after sleeping on the floor with nowhere to wash them. So, this time I decided to go without contacts at all. Now, my vision isn't horrible-horrible, but it isn't great either. In the first 15 minutes, I missed my turn-off towards the highway and continued walking in the wrong direction for an hour! (I'm shaking my head just writing this!)
I stopped to pee. Sometimes the most significant thoughts come during a good bathroom break. "Am I going the wrong way?" I felt like I should be out of the train yard by now, but as I squinted to look ahead, I could only see the road getting narrower and 'potholier'.
I could make out the highway running parallel to me and thought about jumping the fence and cutting through the field. However, my vision tricked me into thinking there was what looked like a drop-off to a river. I decided not to venture off the road. I was starting to feel small and upset when a CN truck pulled up to me, and the driver rolled down the window. "Can I ask you some questions? I asked. "How do I get to the highway?" A voice you would expect from a seasoned train yard worker responded, "I'm not supposed to give anyone rides, but it's probably better than you being out here. I'll take you."
We chatted for a while. I explained my situation, the night in the station, and where I was going. He told me he was the train yard manager and pointed ahead to where I had missed the turn. He figured I had jumped on a box car but then shared his thought, "Nah, his clothes are too nice!"
We talked about Guatemala, and I asked him if he drank coffee. I retrieved a bag for him, and the delicious smell of freshly roasted coffee filled the cab. He drove me a bit further, "to keep talking about Guatemala," he said.
I gave him coffee and this man gave me hope!
After a friendly handshake and well wishes, I was finally in a place where I could put my thumb out. This time it took less than 5 minutes! An awesome gal named Cassandra quickly picked me up in her black Pickup, where she and her calm little Blue Heeler dog greeted me. She talked about her job and how much she loves it. She does work surveying land and walking through the forest. "It is SO nice talking to people that love what they are doing," I thought.
I am writing this over three weeks later, and seeing that she joined the blog mailing list, I wish we had taken a picture together for this story. Either way, here's a shoutout to Cassandra! Thank you for giving me my first official hitchhiking ride on this journey!
We exchanged contact info, I gave her my now customary tariff of a bag of coffee and she dropped me off on the highway heading to Kelowna.
Next was Willam from South Africa and his son, that picked me up in their little Toyota Matrix. They were great to chat with, but it wasn't long before I got out by a town near Vernon. Before I left I fumbled around my way of thanking them for the ride, "Do you like coffee?"
-"No, but my ex-wife drinks tons of it."
-"Here, give this to your ex-wife!" -"Really? Ok! It does smell really good. Good-bye Owen!"
It again took no time at all to be picked up. This time it was Yogui and Angela. What a beautiful couple of people! They were on their way to a wedding in Kelowna. I'm tellin' ya; we had a blast telling stories. Since they were the longest ride, I felt like we really connected the most. They decided to drive me all the way to my friends' Braden and Nina's home address in Peachland and told me they would see me in Guatemala someday. But, before we arrived, I asked them: "is it ok if I write about you guys in the blog?!
"What would you like to say to the world?"
They paused for a minute, Angela was the first to answer. "Just… be love."
Yogui gave his answer, which was essentially the same, in a longer message about how he would come to Guatemala someday and buy a tuk-tuk and retire. He'll give tuk-tuk rides to people for free all day and visit with them.
We all got out upon my arrival for some hugs and a picture and said our goodbyes. Thanks Angela and Yogui. Please do come to Guatemala and visit.
Angela and Yogui gave friendship to me, a stranger they picked up on the side of the road.
I gave them coffee, but I also included something a little special for Angela, a Guatemalan coin to flip for making any of the hard decisions that may come up in the future.
"Giving" comes in all shapes and sizes. Many I have encountered through life do not give to others out of sheer principle. There is a "it's my money, I earned it," or "my time" or "my space" mentality out there that can paralyze the acts of kindness that the world so badly needs right now. But let's not be fooled. None of us born into this privilege of countless opportunities did anything to earn it or choose the families we would be born into. What we all currently own is nothing more than a loan to enjoy and intended for us to share with those in our circles of influence. This includes our time. We are ALL on borrowed time. We are born naked and will die the same. We take nothing with us but the experiences of what we did with the time and resources we loaned while here on earth. Allow me to elaborate. This thought is not about judgment but rather a focus on inspiration. As a family with five kids, we do not have much money to give to projects we care about. Yet, our time is a big area where we've made room to give. It has taken the pairing of our time generosity with the financial generosity of others to be able to fund and achieve what we have in the projects we have been running.
Whatever positions we humans find ourselves in, we are all gifted with talents worth paying forward to the world around us. (Hosting dinners, sharing a cottage or a room with friends in need, inviting an old acquaintance to join you for a game you hold season tickets to, teaching, just listening, or donating to charity: these are all ways of giving back.
Thank you, dear reader, for being so interested in our journey. I will end this here and continue the story later. I imagine that by now, I will probably have already lost like every millennial that started reading this. Check back for the next post soon. You won't want to miss it. I think I met a real angel and am looking forward to telling you about him. His name is Stephen. Here's a sneak peek at a picture of him, and yes… you do want to know all about him.
Thegivingexperiment.com is a blog that uploads content of real-life experiences of a family of 7 attempting an existence focused on generosity as a way of life. We intend to share our story to inspire others toward actions that will lead to a healthier community. Help us expand our reach by simply typing "thegivingexperiment.com" as a status update on social media. Thank you!