See this woman?

cate finishing race

See sunscreen?

Not enough.

I changed my FB profile picture yesterday to Beaker from the Muppets. It was a comment on what my nose looks like right now. I had microsurgery yesterday to remove a basal cell carcinoma from the end of my nose.


It’s a significant wound — I have a photo of the wide deep hole but won’t inflict it on the world — and I have about 10 stitches in the rest of my nose from the long line all the way up the side where they took skin to graft the hole in the end of my nose.

Basal cells are the “non-cancer cancer,” and almost never a long term problem. Except that it’s a much bigger deal than just “burning off a little something,” and an indicator that those 20+ years of running and riding without adequate sunscreen catches up with you. There is a correlated risk to higher incidences of non-skin cancers. And to avoid having a really gross scar, I have to keep my nose completely covered up for the next six months. “Wear a bandaid on it any time you’re outside,” said the surgeon. “If you don’t, the scar will be dark and gross forever.” Nice look for someone who jokes about “Everest nose” after most of my outdoor adventures.

I had the surgery as a bit of a surprise, on a cancellation. I was scheduled for the summer but asked if it was possible to move it up. I went to a 7 am spin class yesterday and was back at my desk drinking coffee and eating a muffin when they called and asked if I could come in right away.

Basically they burn off the lump, take it to the lab, and keep removing layers until there are no more cancer cells. Then they do reconstruction where they take skin from another part of your nose (or your ear) to graft the wound. It’s a multi-stage but incredibly efficient procedure called MOHS. They were great and my health will be fine. But I’ll have a scar, and I needed to scrounge up some serious painkillers last night. And it’s a demonstration that my shameless reveling in the sun has an impact.

I *love* running in the sun. I love the feel of heating up from the inside and the outside at the same time, moving my body in the sun, the other-worldly feel of floating and heat and pure elemental presence. Inverse water in the thirst of Canadian winter. Joked about my leathering skin, felt invincible. Noticed my aging chest a couple of years ago — started calling it Aunt Shirley, flippantly saying “this is what women’s chests looked like when I was a kid.” Not invincible after all.

20 years of running means that I entered this decade fit, connected to my body. This was a reminder that my body needs tenderness and care. Run. Ride. Hike. Walk. Swim. Wear sunscreen. Wear a hat. This hurts and it isn’t pretty. #wearsunscreen


“We are frightened mostly students coz in kenya it happened in a university.”

I was FB chatting with Siima Smith, one of the young adults in the Nikibasika program in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. Al Shabaab has threatened attacks on Uganda, and last week, the Chief Prosecutor in the trial against the perpetrators of the 2010 terrorist bombings in Kampala was shot dead in front of her children as she bought fruit on her way home from work.

“It’s so upsetting as it’s easter time and everyone is celebrating but trying to avoid crowded places where many people are gathered because they are mostly targeted by terrorists.Security has been made more tight because there is checking everywhere.”


The kids in the Niki program aren’t kids anymore. When I was in Kampala in December, I had dinner with the group who are now in post-secondary school in Kampala and Jinja. Baptiste, Maureen, Moreen, Abdu, Joel, Saphra, Manoti, Brendah. Another six are now in Kampala about to join university and college: Nelly, Mary, Brenda, Siima, Fred, Beth. Two have already graduated from university: Elinah and Sylver.

Brenda N talking

Every one of these kids has a story that makes their being in post-secondary school a miracle. Manoti was born by the side of the road during the Rwandan genocide while her mother tried to cross the border into Uganda. Nelly was born in a refugee camp a month later. One of the families in our program saw their mother murdered in front of them as tiny children. Another saw their father and oldest sister murdered. One was abandoned in a plastic bag as an infant. Everyone’s story has some version of poverty, loss, death, HIV, violence, abandonment, fear behind it.

Each of them has had to develop the resilience, focus, desire for a different world that brings them to university or college. Last year, Manoti and Baptiste worked in a refugee camp in northern Uganda for a month. They’re all doing community projects. And they all go to schools that have been named as targets by Al Shabaab.

Rebecca X

Every one of the 148 murdered students in Garissa university had a story like this behind them. It’s hard to get a place in university in Kenya, and it’s a struggle for everyone to pay fees. Universities represent a different kind of future for Kenya and Uganda, a future of peace, global connection, economic strength, development.

Brenda Masika X

I’m not going to post the images of what the inside of the classrooms at Garissa looked like after the attack, pools of blood and overturned chairs and bodies. More trauma in a country where trauma is already deep-rooted. Vicarious trauma for the young people in the Niki program, who are moving through their easter celebration in a thick coat of fear.

There has been a bit of an outcry on twitter about the lack of outcry about Garissa, compared to the Charlie Hebdo attack. #Africanlivesmatter. We’ve talked about the disparity in relation to the ongoing Boko Harem attacks in Nigeria. I think very few people would be able to articulate it out loud or really even know what’s at work, but there is a mostly undercurrented sense that “this is africa, this is what happens there.” A detachment, a bit of a shrug. A sense that “the politics there are a mess,” hard to understand, just a kind of primitive fighting.

I first went to Uganda in 2008, and I’m planning to go for the 8th time in May. Someone once said to me “you know, you’ll always just be a white woman in Africa,” and it’s true. I will always be a muzungu, and know that the longer I work on this project, the less I “know.” I had a lot of certainty when I first started this work, and I have very little now. But I do have relationships with each of these people as individuals, as humans, and I have their stories in my heart. We all do. They are brave and wise and selfish and smart and confused and sweet and hurt and curious and lazy and creative and vain and dull and bull-headed and selfless and and and. They are individuals. And every student at Garissa, the ones who died and the ones who will have to take this terror and fear and make a life around it forever, is an individual.

My heart breaks for Kenya, and my heart breaks for each of the kids in our program, living with and charged with adulthood in a world with so much fear.

We always feel happy in such frightening time when we hear from u.Thanks for your love auntie.we love you too.

Garissa is why we need the Nikibasika program and many others like it. Garissa is young adults trying to build a different world. #IamGarissa

I dreamed

that I was in a bike race and I missed the start, because I was fussing with my earrings and putting one of them in my tongue. My friend Heather kept whizzing by on a vintage coaster bike with her legs up and out to the side yelling Wheee. Then I started on the road race, by myself, in the dark, and there were no markings and I didn’t have a map. And I felt fully confident that it would be a safe, strong adventure.


They also take a ham

“When I get up in the morning, a lot of the time, someone’s just coming home.”

We were having tapas in Madrid with one of my best friends from high school, who has lived in Spain since 1988, when she crossed the Atlantic to teach English for a year or so and ended up marrying a Spanish man. She had three kids in quick succession and now they’re almost grown.

“Your kids are coming home at 6 in the morning?”

“Sometimes, sometimes it’s Alberto. He’s having some kind of mid-life crisis. He’s found some high school friends and they’re sort of … hooligans.” She laughed the easy laugh she’s always had, just going with the flow.


“Well, you know we live in a small town. One of his friends keeps a horse in his back yard. The horse is named Luther. They have a horsecart, and they take it out on the town. So they can drink and not drive. And they dress up.”


“It depends — matadors, flamenco dancers, once like Romans. They decorated the horsecart like a chariot that time. The kids know that if the horsecart is in front of one of the bars, they can avoid that one.”

We utter the kinds of syllables that mean please don’t stop telling me this story, stab at our gambas al ajillo.

“Oh, sometimes they also take a ham. And a big knife.” She pushed her glasses back up on her nose. “I guess in Canada you couldn’t take a big knife into a bar. They cut off slices of ham and give them to people.”

“In the bar?”

“Sometimes from the horsecart. Just in the town. Oh, and there’s a dog. Named Odie. They dress him up too. They’re trying to teach him how to drive the cart.”

The shrimps are gone, along with the asparagus with coarse salt, as I try to digest a life where this is the form a male midlife crisis takes.

J has an afterthought. “Sometimes they skinnydip. The kids won’t go to the pool anymore.”


I learned how to ride a bike by learning how to yank myself out of a free fall onto gravel. I was 7 and we had just moved to a small town near the military base in Germany my dad was going to teach on for two years. My parents bought me a blue folding bicycle and we went camping with the Stolzes. Sandra was my age, and Blair was a year younger.

Our dads positioned us on our bikes at the top of a hill, on a small gravel road, steadied us, then sent us down. My memory puts Rothmans in their mouths and bottles of beer in their hands, young men free and heady in Europe in 1972.

By the end of the weekend, knees embedded with bruises and gravel, grunting through tears and pedalling furiously when I started to fall over, I could ride a bike.

(I learned how to swim in Germany too, in a military pool where a man with a big belly and a speedo yelled and poked me with a stick if I reached for the edge of the pool. There’s a theme here).

The 70s were the days of free range parenting, and my bike and I quickly fell in love. I would hang a little plastic bottle of apple juice around my neck and roll away from the grey white apartment building with the strange metal blinds and five other Canadian families, down a little trail along the tiny river a block away. I’d ride to the next town, look at sheep and perfect, cosy community gardens, beg samples from the carpet store for my dolls, learned how to buy gummi bears. Then the next town, finding the world on my wheels. Later, when my parents’ marriage started unraveling, listening to the wind and the steadiness of my pedalling.

Over two years, we threaded across every country in Europe in our orange VW camper van with the pop up top, Fjords and farmers and small icy streams I fell in. My father pretending to see the Loch Ness monster before throwing a beer can out the window in the green hills, accidentally camping on a wasp’s nest the summer my uncle traveled with us in Denmark, sending him screaming out of the tent in his yellow pyjama suit.

We camped in Rotterdam beside the water one summer, and a guy pulled in on his bicycle, and swiftly unpacked khaki panniers, made a tent, took a tomato out of his bag and cut off a slice with a red Swiss Army knife. I watched in awe — just him, his bike, a tent, a tomato. Self-contained, completely free, independent, alone.

“I want to do that,” I said to my mother.

“You don’t even like tomatoes,” she said.

Like my parents, the Stolz parents broke up in Europe, and my mother got sad wet Christmas cards from Mrs Stolz for years. She finally met a nice man and married him and he died quickly. Blair became the youngest mayor of a town in Alberta. Sideburns and dads with cigarettes and beer while driving disappeared. I rode four decades in my bike seat, always exploring.


But until this week, I never pulled into a campsite along a European river on my bicycle. The universe opened up to put me on a bike route through Bavaria, starting in Rothenburg and following the Altmuhr river to where it meets the Danube. Two friends, a cruiser bike, panniers, no helmet, towns that look exactly the same as they did 40 years ago. A few words of German returning to my lips. Freedom and strength in my legs. Tomatoes — which I now love — and gummi bears in my backpack.


Sentences you never thought you’d utter (1)

“Those weren’t my foreskins.”

(At dinner with an immmunologist who is researching why circumcision seems to help in preventing HIV transmission, by studying the cells of foreskins she collects from a public health program promoting circumcision… in Uganda… where the boys in the Niki program were circumcised last year. But it turns out Jen’s foreskins are from a different part of Uganda. Therefore, not foreskins with which I am, however peripherally, acquainted).

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