The Sky in Canada has Diarrhoea

It’s snowing again. Sometimes I feel like I am about to get over my weariness of all this snow. The sun comes out, water runs underneath the huge white mounds everywhere that have grown and grown over the winter, but even then — it’s only to freeze and leave tiny skating rinks here and there. A few weeks ago, while helping my roommate film a movie for class, riding our bikes, I found myself suddenly lying on cold glass of what was supposed to be the sidewalk. It happened twice actually — only one of the times was almost on purpose. What amazed me the most was how quickly and painlessly I went from being on top of a bike, to being right down on the ground, sitting on my bum or lying on my back with the bike out in front of me. I imagine the long line of traffic waiting at the light had quite the time laughing at the show I was putting on. Thankfully my roommate and I were also able to have a good laugh, bent double, my sides aching, trying to imagine what I must have looked like. I only wish I had been filming at the time.

I’m tired of defrosting windows and sitting in a cold car waiting, shivering until I can see enough of the road to start driving. I’m tired of coats and layers. And what are the benefits of all this snow? We’re not even on top in the Olympics! At least the Jamaican bobsled team has nice warm beaches to go back to after their time at the Olympics, but us? We have snow; and a sky that has the runs and can’t manage to hold it through till the next autumn. Instead it’s intermittent dumps of snow, again and again and again. But really, I shouldn’t complain. Winter can be beautiful at times. I do enjoy seeing the trees after a fresh snowfall, or watching the sun glitter off the little ice crystals that blow in the wind some brisk mornings.

Every season has its ups and downs. Personally I prefer the ups and downs of summer, especially here in Canada where it never quite gets hot enough to suffer. Summer in Alberta is like winter in the Sindh — pleasant. But, I guess I’ll have to live through it, make the most of winter and try to enjoy it’s beauty, even when that beauty decides to attack my face every time I step out of a warm building.


Slimy, Stinky Fish

Though I’m not actually in Pakistan now, I had a number of posts which I wrote while I was there and didn’t have time to post. As a result, I will be writing about my time there for a few more posts, which might be interrupted by others in between. Thanks for reading!


Slimy, Stinky Fish

Wet covers the ground as men, wrapped in shawls, make their way around the piles of fish that lie everywhere. No one has time to stop and gawk at the three oddly-placed foreigners making their way around the press of people. All are busy doing their own business, rushing to buy their fish and get them out to the public. Carts make their way through the crowd, their pushers shouting at whoever stands in the way as they stop constantly for the men squeezing through the small gaps in the mass. One man makes a loud wailing sound, like a siren on an emergency vehicle, as he pushes though. It works for ambulances, so he figures it can’t hurt to put it to use for his fish cart. Others are almost ploughed over as they stand around the piles, only just dodging the carts as they check the mounds of fish. One wheelbarrow, left unattended, is knocked over in the hubbub, but thankfully manages to keep its fish from sliding out onto the ground.

The fish are all so varied. Some of the piles are full of bright pink fish, with yellow streaks colouring their fins like an early sunrise. There are huge fish too —tuna maybe (I’m not very knowledgable when it comes to fish) that look like it would take the full strength of one man just to lug one of the slippery bodies to wherever it needed to go. There are sole, and other fish that look like they spent their lives lying flat on their side at the bottom of the ocean, staring up at the strange world above them. There are others that have large red balloon-like bulges sticking out of their mouths, as if their stomachs exploded out of their bodies on the way up from the water. There are long eels, brilliant blue parrot fish, and barrels of shrimp and prawn, with their tiny black eyes and long wispy appendages. My brother and I glance around at the different fish, having to constantly keep moving, for fear of being run over by the traffic of carts and wheelbarrows all around us. It’s like being in the Sea World of Pakistan.

I’ve never been to Sea World, and I won’t even pretend I know what it’s like. I know its nothing like the Karachi fish market, but all the same, it’s an amazing experience to see the display of sea life — dead. It’s kind of an oxymoron when you think about it. Dead sea life. This is the kind of fishing my dad likes, where everything is already caught for you, sorted in nice little piles. My brother seems to be the only one of us blessed with enough patience to enjoy fishing – though I’m not sure why that patience can’t be put to use in any other areas of his life. I really don’t mind fishing, just like I don’t mind sitting, with my feet in the water, watching and talking, while my brother does all the fishing. I think I would enjoy it even more if I could have a pot of chai with me as well.

While we walk through the market, a wheelbarrow of stingrays passes me on my side, just giving me a glimpse of their flat, grey bodies and long, thin tails. I remember the time we found a stingray on the beach —tired and half dead (or half alive, if you’re being optimistic). Scooping it up with a shovel, we waded into the water and tossed it into the waves, making sure we bravely screamed and ran the other way, so the all-but-lifeless stingray didn’t manage to get us while we stood there in the water.

In the fish market, everyone carries a slimy wicker basket — on carts, wheelbarrows, rickshaws and by hand. A man goes by us with a slimy basket in each hand, a giant tail sticking out of one end, as his shoulders droop with the weight of his fishy cargo. I wonder if there is a special supplier of these slimy fish baskets. I wonder if the fishermen are outraged when they get a new one, because it doesn’t come slick and slippery like all the ones they are used to having.

Stinky, slimy, noisy and busy, the fish market is a must-see for anyone wanting a display of ocean creatures. Roll up your jeans and slop your way through the a raw museum of the Indian Ocean’s dead sea life. For anyone security conscious, this is the place for you. No terrorist would ever look for foreigners there, or even follow you in, for that matter!

My brother, Stephen and I cleaning up the shrimp back at the hut
My brother Stephen and I cleaning up the shrimp back at the hut

A Night with Turtles

Photo credit: Stephen Wiley (2013)
Photo credit: Stephen Wiley (2013)

Every year my family goes to the beach near Karachi, for a week of rest and escape. We stay in a small and rustic beach hut with weathered and peeling blue and white paint. Away from the phone and doorbell, this week is a time for my parents to kickback, relax, and mostly to read. In the past, for us kids it has been almost a week of non-stop digging in the sand and getting seriously browned – or just sunburned. This year it was the first time, since my high school graduation, that I was able to join our family beach week. And though my sister couldn’t be with us this time, my brother and I did manage to keep ourselves busy.

Our very first night at the the hut, my brother, my dad and I decided we would take a walk after dark, up along the beach, to enjoy the waves and the stars, and hopefully to see some sea turtles. At this time of year female sea turtles, laden with eggs, will make their way out of the water, up onto the sand, and dig a nest for the eggs. With their strong flippers they will scoop sand out from around them till they are deep enough to lay their precious cargo.

As we made out way along the beach that night, we came across turtle after turtle (close to a dozen), coming up from the dark ocean. Some halfway up the sand, others having just made their way out of the the water. Each time my dad would tell us to be quiet and coax us past, trying not to scare them. And each time my brother and I would be desperate to stay and catch a better look at the turtles up close.

With sea turtles, it’s important to make sure you don’t scare the females as they come up to make their nests. Tired and heavy, the last thing they need is to be scared back into the ocean. We always try to stay out of their way until the eggs are laid, and only after they begin their trip back into the water, do we try to get close to them. When we made it back to the hut again, my brother and I decided to stay out, quietly watching two turtles nearby, only a few huts apart from each other. A couple times we had to throw stones, as the dark shapes of dogs moved along the sand, some below us toward the water, and others up further, almost attacking on of the poor mother turtles as she dug her nest. Each time, the turtle would move a few meters from where she had been been, frightened by the dogs, and would begin digging again in the new spot.

Back and forth, my brother and I would patrol, toward to the water, making sure the dogs stayed far away from both turtles. It was just after checking on one of the mothers that a dark mass further down the beach caught our attention. We stood, and squatted, trying to see in the moonless night. Between the black bunches of seaweed on the shore, we could see the silhouette of a head and shell, making its way down toward the water. Quietly we walked up, standing close behind it on either side. Softly we ran our hands along its large smooth shell — such a contrast to the small shells of the newborns, with their minute ridges. We felt the mother’s large flippers as well, thick and leathery beneath our fingers, whispering to each other in excitement as we followed her along. I wanted so badly to swim in with her — to see her in the water, but in the dark and with the water being so cold, going in deep seemed pointless. Instead we walked with her, resting our hands on her shell.

Soon we reached the wet sand, where the little waves washing up onto the sand began to catch the turtle’s body, pulling her as they washed in and out. Her slow and steady crawl continued as the water swirled its way around her. And then there was a moment — with one wave carrying a little more water than the last — where her body rose slightly, and her thick front flippers found the room they needed to swim. When a turtle gets into water, one quickly learns the difference between bodies made for the ocean and bodies made for the land.

My brother and I splashed into the dark surf, trying to keep our hands on her shell. But after that single moment, there was nothing holding her back. In seconds her dark, glossy shell disappeared beneath the surf and she was gone, leaving two boys grinning at each other in the dark, knee-deep in the water.



My sister sent me a leaf from Germany. The little splotches of green in it are slowly giving way to the orange and brown of the rest of the leaf. On a small pink sticky note, she wrote “Here’s a tiny bit of Germany for you, Josh!” I have another leaf on my desk from earlier in the semester. I can’t even remember why I brought it in. I just remember bringing it up to the house and putting it on the table, saying to one of my flatmates, “here, have some nature.” When it was doomed for the garbage, I laid it amidst all my little reminders and notes scattered on my desk – almost like small white leaves themselves.

There’s a leaf in my room at my Grandparents’ house – they framed it after I sent it to them several years ago from Pakistan, in a letter, as a last minute addition to the envelope. The strangest part is that the words I wrote to my Grandparents were almost identical to my sister’s. “Here’s a little bit of Murree,” I wrote. So as I opened up my sister’s envelope to find this leaf, I felt a strange sense of happy déjà vu. I guess there’s no doubt that we are definitely siblings, and that, for some reason, we see a leaf as a valuable and meaningful token of our love and care, and a representation of a place we enjoy. Perhaps we’re just strange.

But what is it that is so special about a leaf? Why do I find them so meaningful? Perhaps it’s just an attempt to bring the world into my room, and to try get nature to be where it can’t be. Perhaps a part of it is the fact that it was once living, attached to a strong and rooted tree – permanent, connected, and growing. It bears memories of something far larger and far more sedentary. But, disconnected and detached from its place, it’s suddenly transient and momentary, holding its last hues of green only until they drain from its patterned veins. Leaves are marked by change. From the fresh brightness of their first growth to the burlap brown of their death, they fill the branches above with ever changing colour and vibrance – nature’s mural, hung above our heads. And yet when winter arrives, the trees simply shake their beauty to the ground in a sea of orange and brown, soon to be covered by a thick blanket of snow.

There’s something magical about a leaf. There’s something amazingly beautiful about it’s humble and simple colours. And it’s comforting to know that I have a sister just as crazy as me, who sends leaves with her mail as a symbol of her love for people and places.

Thanks, Liz.