Cyclones and survival

Screen shot Aziz

Ferryboat driver Abdul Aziz was lucky to survive Cyclone Aila in 2009. Paul Plett and I were on CTV again to talk about Mr. Aziz and rising waters in Bangladesh. Watch our interview here.

Farmers are saving Bangladesh’s endangered soil

Mariam Begum holds eggplants from her garden - Paul Plett (1)

Light trickles through thatched walls into Mariam Begum’s seed hut. Painted clay pots and salvaged medicine bottles crowd the bamboo shelves along the walls. Begum unstops a bottle and tips the contents into her palm, careful not to drop a single grain. Her seed vault may be low-tech, but it holds a resource that will be vital to the people of Bangladesh as they face the upheavals of climate change.

Read the rest of my story in the Anglican Journal.

Shunning the technology gods: Modern Mennonites embrace old-fashioned skills

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Scripture guided their forbears to reject electricity and cars, but these modern Mennonites spurn our tech-obsessed culture for other reasons. Can these neo-Luddites help us with our own smartphone struggles?

Read my story in the Ottawa Citizen.

Hell and high water

boat in Gopalganj 2

Ratna Aditto has lived her entire life on the clay banks of the Pasur River in southern Bangladesh. Chances are she’ll die here. The capricious river has eaten her house more times than she can recall. One year she rebuilt it six times.

Where was her last house? She points out into the mist that hangs low over the grey-green river, obscuring the far bank.

Read my cover story for the UC Observer on how climate change is impacting millions of people in Bangladesh.

Climate change in Bangladesh

CTV screen shotI just returned from a month-long trip to Bangladesh where I spoke to farmers about how flooding, cyclones and soil salinization are affecting their ability to grow crops. CTV Winnipeg sat down with me and Paul Plett to ask us about our trip. More articles to come.

Watch the interview here.

Writing the revolution

Alrawi

When the 2011 revolution broke out in Egypt. Alrawi booked a flight to Cairo. “I felt I’d been part of what led up to it,” he says. “It was only right that I should be there.” During the 18 days of protests that brought down President Hosni Mubarak, Alrawi lived in an apartment overlooking Tahrir Square and worked with an Egyptian human-rights organization to document the deaths of protestors. When he returned home to Vancouver, he knew what his novel needed to be about.

From my profile of Egyptian-Canadian writer Karim Alrawi in the November issue of Quill & Quire.

Marilynne Robinson’s abundant grace

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I came to church that night, not to hear a sermon per se, but to listen to someone whose writings I treasure almost like sacred texts. Robinson’s novels make me weep. When I reach the last page, I usually turn the book over and start again at the beginning. What touches me so deeply in Robinson’s fiction is her compassion for her characters, her grace. Here is a woman who sees every human being, no matter how small-minded or desperate, as imbued with the radiance of God.

Read the rest of my piece on Marilynne Robinson’s visit to Winnipeg.

Reprinted in Utne Reader

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Utne Reader reprinted my feature from Geez, “Preparing for a Beautiful End.”

Writing non-fiction characters

This week Story Board, an online resource for independent journalists, interviewed me about freelance writing. Below is an excerpt. You can read the whole interview here.

Q: How do you know if you have a good story idea? Are there elements of an idea that tell you that it’s a winner?

There’s a couple of things I look for in a good story. I look for character, a personality at the centre of the story who can make it come alive. And a person who can speak about their own motives because otherwise it’s really hard to find out what’s going on inside people’s heads.

I remember a workshop I once went to with a writer, an American magazine writer, writes for The Believer and a bunch of other magazines. And he said he approaches it like a novel. Like he’s writing fiction. Desire is the engine that drives fiction, it’s what motivates characters. And so every time he interviews someone, the question in the back of his mind is “what is this person’s fundamental desire here, what it is that they want?” And I really found that fascinating. So that’s what I try to look for is a character and some way to access what’s going on at a deeper level for them and the desire that’s driving them.

I also look for some connection to a bigger story. There’s always a small story that illustrates a bigger story. So in the case of Ruben and Carmen the small story is how they’re living their lives and the bigger story is a story of climate change and our cultural fixation with the apocalypse and wondering if things as we know them are about to drastically change.

A story about my mother

josiah and motherSons and Mothers cover

The morning was grey and thin as cloth when my mother and I came down to the beach. The surface of the bay lay flat, the colour of aluminum. We sat on a wet cedar log abandoned by the tide. I set the table on a water-worn stump: two teacups, a Thermos full of milky tea, two oat scones hot from the oven. We sat side by side on the log to share our breakfast picnic. As the low swells unfurled themselves like a lace-edged tablecloth against the gravel beach, we talked about the difficult thing we had been circling all summer: my straying faith.

From an essay about my mother I contributed to a new book edited by Mary Ann Loewen. Sons and Mothers is a collection of writings by men from Mennonite backgrounds reflecting on their mothers. Book launch at McNally Robinson on Oct. 3.