Monday, October 12, 2015

Book Review: Invisible Chains: Canada's Underground World of Human Trafficking

After reading Siddhartha Kara's book on Sex Trafficking, I wanted to learn about the situation in Canada.

Invisible Chains: Canada's Underground World of Human Trafficking
By Benjamin Perrin
298 pages

As intended, I got the sex trafficking story from a Canadian perspective. Shocking that the stories I'd read about in poorer nations was indeed happening in Canada. Shocking that men in Canada are also mega-assholes who make their money off buy, selling and abusing women and children, as well as buying sex from these victims. Shocking that law enforcement couldn't do much because the laws were poorly written and lenient. I wonder if this has changed though, as the book is five years old?

Perrin's book was useful in rounding out my knowledge of sex trafficking, but not as well written as Kara's.  Where Kara's book was compelling and engrossing, Perrin's book was just...well a bit boring. It was well researched, and the personal stories where there, but I felt like he talked in circles and sometimes repeated concepts. I skimmed a lot. However, it was still worth a read and I still learned stuff.

Reading these two books together has me examining my purchases, especially from a forced labor perspective. How do I know where my clothes come from? How can I make more ethical clothing/goods purchases?

Recommended from the internet on this issue was...

Shopping for Good
Dara O'Rourke
103 pages

I wanted information about ethical shopping: who/what/where/why/how. Instead I got a chapter from O'Rourke on why ethical shopping is good, followed by a number of essays from guest contributors essentially agreeing with O'Rourke: ethical shopping is good. Yeah, I know that. I wanted more than a preaching to the choir collection of essays. Oh well. At least it was short.

Book Review: Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery

The girls decided October's book club genre would be "unsettling" - because it's Halloween month but we've already done thriller and horror. I don't do scary but unsettling was sufficiently vague that I figured I could find something. And as I often bend towards nonfiction, there is plenty of unsettling stuff in the world. Someone suggested I read a new Scientology book, which led me to search out general cult books. I couldn't find a book that dealt with various cults, and the only real life stories recently seemed to be based off one particular cult. I knew I wanted to learn about multiples, and I knew I wanted to learn about facts as well as personal stories.

Somehow, I got on human trafficking - unsettling no doubt - and came across a book that sounded like the perfect fit. It contained researched facts, as well as anecdotal personal stories, and it presented a global perspective by including many countries around the world. And in the end it was exactly what I was looking for.

October 2015: Unsettling

Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery
By Siddhartha Kara
298 pages

Siddharth Kara left the business word to journey into anti-slavery research and advocacy. One of the reasons I chose to read this book was because all the reviews and websites generally considered Kara a renowned expert. This is his first book of a trilogy on modern slavery (Bonded Labour: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia - 2012, the last yet to be published, as well as a report titled Tainted Carpets: Slavery and Child Labor in India's Hand-Made Carpet Sector - 2014). Kara not only provides the researched facts I was looking for, but also an analysis of the business side of human trafficking.

However, the strengths of this book are Kara's journey to the various countries and his descriptions of what he observes, and his retelling of numerous personal stories of predominantly the victims of sex trafficking, but also law enforcement and NGO workers. He travels to and writes about the situation in India, Nepal, Italy, Western Europe including Moldova, Albania and the Balkans, Thailand and the United States.

And it was unsettling. It's so hard to comprehend how in this modern world women and children are still being bought and sold into the sex trade. And millions of men around the world have so little respect and care for women and children that they make this happen by organizing and running the sex trafficking industry, but also by buying sex from victims. I can't even put it into words. Kara's writing was extremely visual, compelling and accessible. I read this book in 2 nights - I just couldn't put it down.

My only complaint about this book is it's not overly current, being published about seven years ago. However, I will read his second book and the third when it comes out. I highly recommend this book: it will open your eyes to a world long forgotten. It will inspire horror, compassion, and a desire to change. It's not an pleasant read but I left feeling like I learned, and feeling like I needed to learn more. It was a perfect unsettling book for October.

Tour of Alberta: Course Marshalling for the Win

I came across a tweet asking for volunteers for Tour of Alberta 2015. I'm an avid cyclist, but will admit I know little about bike racing. I did watch Tour of Alberta 2013 downtown when it was in Edmonton, and I intended to watch this year. But I'm perpetually drawn to volunteering, and am glad I clicked submit on that volunteering application because it was awesome.

I had to attend a short orientation held at City Hall the week before. I signed in, got a spot, and learned a bit about the tour. I would've like to learn more about my volunteer job, but received a handbook via email right before the event that helped. I was still a bit unsure about the whole day but I'll do anything for a (florescent high-vis yellow) free t-shirt. (Also a free sandwich and snack which was a nice touch.)

The most unclear part was the timing. I was given a time to sign in, but really, it was 2 full hours before the start so I just stood around for 2 hours. I get that you want all volunteers to be in place for the start time - but I was never told the start time, nor told what time I had to be in position. Only this ridiculously early time to hang around. It drives me nuts when I get treated like a tardy child. Don't give my a 2 hour early call time because you think I'll be late. I'm never late. Very annoying.

For awhile I stood around and watched the family ride (which I also never knew about, and would've participated if given an opportunity - not so fab marketing here). There were some cute kids out and just generally a lot of people have a fun time riding the course. This went on for an hour and then more volunteers started showing up. Were they told different times than me? Who knows.

Cute little guy on his glider - that there is the future of this sport!

I switched my spot so a couple could be together and it was the best thing that happened to me all day because my new spot was epic! I guess a course marshal's job is to keep people safe. To keep people off the road, to keep debris off the road, and to generally ensure the riders' safety from the crowd (and vice versa). We told people when to cross the road and when to not cross the road. We kept people well onto the curb and answered a few questions. Fortunately the race went off without a hitch and besides certain self entitled people ignoring our orders to not cross the road, all was well and no one got hurt.

The riders made 11 laps. We knew they were coming when the paid race marshals started blowing their whistles. Then the front cars swung around our corner, then the riders, then all the following cars. They went around the other part of the course and a few minutes later this was all repeated on the corner across from us. So we basically go to see each lap twice.

As usual the best part was chatting to the other volunteers. I was paired with a younger guy from the States, and he knew tons about bikes and bike racing so he was super informative. I learned a lot.

My spot was perfect. I got to see the riders up close. It was so cool - they were going so fast you could barely see them. And the noise, so neat.

This is what it was really like. The first bit is from across my corner, but watch till the end - that was my corner!

It was a really good day. I will definitely volunteer next time Tour of Alberta stops in Edmonton, and heck, maybe I'd volunteer other places too. And I'll certainly travel to see it next year - maybe in the mountains. That would be so cool...

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Book Review: The Big Splash

September's genre for book club was school stories. I actually had a hard time finding a book: I didn't want to read about teenager romance or vampires or wizards (already read those). But yay for goodreads - I found a gooder!

September 2015: Set in a School

The Big Splash
By Jack D. Ferraiolo
288 pages

Vinny Biggs and his syndicate has control of Franklin Middle School. You know, the usual stuff, forged hall passes, contraband candy. If you cross him, or he doesn't like you, then you get put in "the outs" - a group of outcast kids who once had water guns sprayed on them so it looks like they peed themselves. You try coming back to the cafeteria after the entire school has laughed at you. Vinny needs a favour from Matt - the local school detective, but that favour turns into another job after one of Vinny's top guns gets soaked. Who sprayed Nikki? Matt is on the case, with the help of the local newspaper editor and friends to solve the mystery.

This book was great - so film noir I could hear the characters talking like on set of a noir film! There was a touch of romance, but more about junior high friendships, all narrated perfectly by our detective. Sure it was written for kids (man I bet junior high boys would love it), but I think the author did such a great job with the film noir tone that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'd highly recommend this to any mystery fans who are in, or want to go back to those junior high days!

There's a sequel too (The Quick Fix) that I fully intended on reading, but the premise sounded similar and let's be honest, I'm not 13. It was a fun trip to film noir for preteens though! (Although I wonder if Matt found his dad, who disappeared mysteriously? And what's up with his mom's mean boss...)

Friday, September 18, 2015

Book Review: I Kill Giants + Lost At Sea

I don't really like graphic novels. There. I said it. Sometimes I read them because I want to feel cool, but I still don't really "get" them. I guess I just prefer novels. Recently I came across a top 10 list somewhere and, as per usual, thought maybe I'd try getting into graphic novels again. Maybe I'd change my opinion. (Spoiler: I didn't)

Lost at Sea
By Bryan Lee O'Malley
160 pages

I sort of liked O'Malley's Seconds and Scott Pilgrim, especially the art, I do like his art. So I sort of liked this book. Raleigh is on a weird road trip with acquaintances. She's an introvert. They're not. Mostly she lives in her head, which is useful for finding out why they're in the car in the first place. She's sad. Broken hearted. At one point she decides a cat stole her soul so they all try look for the cat. And then it ends.

I think love is stupid and I can't relate to angsty young adults. So the point of this book was lost on me. But it was pretty. And there were cats. So that's something.

I Kill Giants
By Joe Kelley & J. M. Ken Nimura
184 pages

Barbara is a weird kid with an impressive active imagination: she's prepping to kill some giants. She's got problems at home. She's got problems at school. And then one day the giant comes and a secret is revealed and all is solved.

The story of this is good, but the art was...confusing? Especially at first. I had a hard time following along for awhile. I guess it's just not quite my style. But it works with the story, which is good. How's that for a deep review?

So do I love graphic novels now? Nope. But I'll keep trying to fall in love again every once in awhile.

Klondike Days: Volunteer Rookie

There are few volunteer gigs I like better than selling 50/50s in our big arena. Last year, I signed up to be a volunteer for the Northlands crew so I could sell 50/50s for the Canadian Finals Rodeo each November. As part of the crew, I get notices for volunteer opportunities throughout the year, which unfortunately due to timing and other commitments I could never participate in.

But, I figured I ought to make a special effort for K-Days in July - Edmonton's annual fair and exhibition, and Northlands biggest event. There were a number of opportunities to choose from, but I chose 3 shifts of Gate Welcome Ambassador, one at each of the 3 gates, although on one of my shifts either I got confused or the person who sent me out got confused and I ended up at the wrong gate but oh well, no harm no foul.

As for all big events, I had to attend an orientation night. I got my updated volunteer ID, and a free bus ticket in case I couldn't ride my bike. It was very nice of them to offer free bus tickets and free parking, but no one mentioned bike parking the entire evening. I also got my volunteer uniform which consisted of a blue polo shirt, a grey sort of rain jacket and a black baseball cap. There were snacks and speeches from the VIPS, and then specific speeches for the role I selected. I also received a handbook. So I'd say I was mostly prepared for my shifts. Mostly, but still was very apprehensive on the first day.

There was some back and forth on social media about bike parking, as I didn't find it very clear on the website (it was buried in the FAQS, and not on the transportation page that I saw at the time) and everyone I contacted was super s-l-o-w to get back to me. It would be nice if they offered a secure bike corral, but alas, nothing was available for bikes besides the usual few racks outside the gates. And these did fill up over the course of the day so really, Northlands ought to offer more and encourage cycling as a transportation option. It's a no brainer to include sustainable transportation opportunities for big events. Sometimes I hate the massive car culture of this city. (Ok, all the time...)

Bike parking. Available but certainly not glamourous.

This rack filled up over the course of the day, so that's promising.

So on my first shift I arrived and parked my bike at the gate I was stationed at. I signed in at the volunteer centre in the middle of the grounds, got and filled up a reusable water bottle, pocketed my free $10 in food vouchers (sadly not midway food, just building cafeteria but super thankful for this nice perk!), and headed out to my gate. This was the first change from the training - at the training we were told to wait in the volunteer centre for our supervisor, but no one showed up and it turned out we were supposed to just go to the gate. Off I went. I found a supervisor there, got an apron off a person going off shift, and started "welcoming". My job was to hand out day sheets with the schedule and map on it, and Lost Child stickers. As I was stationed near a ticket line, I also was crowd control, which shouldn't have happened as they had their own volunteers in ticketing, but there was a line and it was chaos so someone had to do something.

Then it got a little tense as one supervisor got a bit cranky with me for standing where I was, even though my supervisor when I started told me to be there. It turned out the supervisor schedule got screwed up and there were two supervisors at the same place giving different orders. Annoying. So I was already cranky, when the shift change happened for me to go home and the supervisor said I had to stay even though everyone else got swapped out.

In the end, my first day was...mediocre. I like the job of welcoming people, and it was busy so that was nice, but all this bossy supervisor drama left a bad taste in my mouth and honestly, I didn't want to go back.

But go back I did. The second shift I was at a different gate so I just went out and took someone off. The people I worked with on all shifts were super nice - which is always the best part of volunteering - so it was pleasant making small talk with them during quiet times. We worked quite well together this shift I'd say! Turns out this was the shift I was actually at the wrong gate! But the (same as yesterday) supervisor didn't show up until 5 minutes to hometime (3hrs later) so no obviously one noticed/cared. No drama this time because of the absent supervisor and I was feeling better about the whole experience.

Third shift was the same place as the second, and as it was a weeknight, it was slower, plus it rained a bit. But the people were still lovely so it's all good. I actually wished I had more time to volunteer for more shifts, but it was a busy week.

All in all, I would volunteer for KDays again. I would pick my shift time/place more carefully, but I would probably be a gate ambassador again. I don't mind being out in the elements, it had it's busy moments, and people were, for the most part, very friendly. I could've done without the supervisor drama but instead of complaining I'll climb the ladder of seniority and move my way into that position and then do a super awesome job!

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Interstellar Rodeo 2015: Oh So Civilized

Oh Interstellar. What a pleasant venue. What a lovely festival.

It was another great weekend of music at the year's Interstellar Rodeo! It's so easy to attend this festival. The line up is low stress. There's chairs and shade/rain cover. The food is fantastic and the lines aren't very long. And even though the bathrooms could get messy at times, there were indoor bathrooms with plumbing! It's hard to not want to go to this festival, and that's not even considering the music!

Of course the best part was hanging out with my music people. It really was a lovely 3 days of chatting in the line up, in the stands, over a meal, and on breaks as we walked around the lake at Hawrelak Park. My people are awesome - they shared their food, cleaned gum off my bum after I sat on some and didn't even laugh when I dropped my knitting and it rolled down the aisle!

Spotted this little dude on a walk around the lake. Isn't he cute!

But the music! The lineup was good this year - except there were a number of really "showy" acts. Between the fancy light shows, and arrogant performers, I could've done without the "showy". The venue is ace, but I really wish the music meshed more with what I like. And what I don't like is showy, hipster, pretentious crap.

Here's my top 3:

Buffy Sainte-Marie
It's been a Buffy summer for me. I saw her play in Ottawa in early June, and since then pretty much listened to her CDs nonstop in my office all summer. Her concert did not disappoint. My music people were sceptical, but she wowed them over. She was upbeat, genuine, and belted out all my favourite tunes. She had the crowd eating out of her hands. Buffy is one cool lady. Why wasn't she the headliner???

Buffy is one cool lady!

All Stars: Joel Plaskett, Kathleen Edwards, Luke Doucet
A late edition, this set was awesome. I love Luke Doucet's guitar, and the fact that he got Kathleen to come out of retirement for us was very special.

See, Kathleen is having fun! She should come out of retirement more often! Oh yeah, that there is the White Falcon. I heart the White Falcon. Right, because you don't have a crush on a guitar...

Tied: Elle King, Oh Susanna, Rhiannon Giddens
I don't like female singers as a general rule, but this year these 3 impressed me. Elle King was fiesty, Oh Susanna sang my favourite song from the olden days, and Rhiannon, well, what a voice!

Elle King. Banter was better than the music (which was good too!).

Oh Susanna. River Blue, yay!

Man that Rhiannon lady has some voice!

So yes, I'll be back next year regardless of music line up and ever increasing ticket price. I'm not ready to give up this luxury just yet!