I’ve never been part of a natural disaster before.
I’ve never called Calgary my home either, but I’ve spent enough time here to feel the collective sense of unreality that comes with seeing downtown underwater. Or with seeing the images from friends and media of the much more familiar Bragg Creek (a hamlet near which I’ve lived and worked a cumulative 9 months), where a bridge I’ve rode my bicycle over dozens of times is now little more than a chasm bracketed by cracked cement and splintered rebar.
I’ve had to cancel one event (at Lush Cosmetics in Red Deer), and I am for now stuck just south of the city in Okotoks (a name derived from the Blackfoot word Okatoks, meaning ‘rock’). This name refers to a giant boulder which serves not only as the town’s namesake but also it’s principal landmark. To me, this is fitting, as this place and the hospitality of my host has been a rock for me while we wait for this storm to clear so I can be on my way. Hospitality has been my home since leaving Vancouver, and never have I felt that more than when I was welcomed into my hosts’ evacuation plan should it come to that. It’s a strange thing to feel while staying nowhere for more than a few days, but my sense of community is overflowing (pardon the phrase).
And say what you will about the media and the government, but having information and services roll out this smoothly during such a crisis is beautiful in a totally human way. It reminds me of a conversation I recently had with someone older and wiser than me about the end of civilization (Mad Max style).
“What skills and knowledge would you want to have learned before the collapse?” I asked.
“How to hunt. How to grow food. I would want to know where all the clam beds are too,” (she was an Islander), “But most of all I’d want to know how to organize people. If you don’t have people who can peacefully and efficiently delegate what needs to be done and when, we’d all be doomed”.
This is the beauty of the flood. Despite the damage, (including the tragic human toll just south of here in High River), peoples’ sense of obligation towards one another has been awakened like only common hardship, identity, and organization truly can (I’ve never heard the word ‘Calgarian’ said so often). And especially since today (June 22, 2013) has been beautiful and sunny, it’s hard to shake the feeling that everything’s gonna be alright.
Common cause, hardship, and identity are themes that define the West Papuan struggle, and as such are a central part of the narrative of the multimedia presentation which I’ve given 8 times in communities throughout BC as well as in Banff and Calgary since this campaign began. A good example of this is in the song ‘Arnold’, which I wrote for the presentation and is one of 5 songs on the Pedalling for Papua EP. The challenge of this campaign and with campaigning about international issues in general has always been to make those issues and people far away from us feel close, if not physically than in spirit. I spend a lot of time/day on the road with nothing to do but pedal and think, and this is one of those things I think about a lot. But being here, now, has given me some insight.
It’s been 2.5 weeks since I left Vancouver (having spent about 10 days there after leaving Victoria), so I think it’s fair to say that this first update is well overdue. But what better opportunity than these few forced days off the road to catch up? The fact that this regional surge in identity driven community spirit is such an easy segue into talking about West Papua is one of those artistic licenses that the universe sometimes lets you have.
West Papuan spirit, whether you want to call it nationalism, common identity, a unifying struggle, or whatever, is what has always drove this movement forward. There is a debate about where this commonality comes from (re: p. 86 of Comprehending West Papua), with some contending that West Papuans would not have a singular identity if it weren’t for the devastating human and environmental violence that the Indonesian occupation has brought to them all. Their common struggle has created a common bond, and perhaps a darwinian need to cooperate within a nameable group. The over 300 tribes that call West Papua home now largely identify not only as Dani, Lani, Korowai or Biak (to name a few), but also as West Papuan. Is it the struggle that has created this duality? And if so, does this weaken it somehow? Is it less valid?
I am proud to call myself Canadian all the time, but it is only when something communally affecting happens (like these floods) that I feel pride. That’s when the emotion hits me and my connection with this large group of strangers becomes viscerally, even pragmatically real. It’s the sense that we can do something together because we are one.
It’s when this comes up for me that I also feel closest to West Papua, because it only takes one simple, logical step to connect my pride with theirs: that it is the same. It’s not the same place, or the same people, or the same culture or cause or anything else. But it’s the same, human thing. And we all have it. As long as I can remember that, then fighting for that which is far away becomes as natural and easy a choice as putting up sandbags to keep a local business dry.
We’re all people.