The Candadian Women for Women in Afghanistan conference provided John Norgrove with much food for thought.
Last month Lorna and I combined a holiday travelling across Canada by train with meeting up with our partners for the Afghanistan Reads project, Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, at their annual conference in Victoria, near to Vancouver in British Columbia.
CW4WAfghan started supporting Afghan women during the dark years of Taliban rule in 1996 so they’ve far more experience than us and we learned a lot. Like us, they’re pretty much run by volunteers, which is impressive when you realise that they raise and spend over half a million pounds a year and run an active operational presence in Afghanistan.
The scale of life in Canada is totally different. Living on an unspoilt island with definite boundaries emphasised for us the scale of Canada, the second largest country in the world.
Also different were attitudes to the past and future. North Americans frequently appear to embrace progress with an almost child-like optimism combined with considerable disdain for things a little out of date. Language is often a good guide to the way people think and several times I heard the phrases ‘tear down’ and ‘rip out’ used to describe clearing the way for redevelopment. Older things and ‘history’ are valued but less survives the constant reshaping than in Europe.
But this is the negative side. It was energising to be exposed to the more positive North American attitude that emphasises the responsibility we hold as to how our lives will turn out.
I was inspired by the examples of two women who I won’t mention by name to avoid their embarrassment. To me, they represent the power of positive thinking personified and this enables them to both achieve so much and inspire others by their example. All by apparently not giving any room for a negative thought to develop.
There are parallels with those here on Lewis who hold strong Christian beliefs. This is an outpost of Presbyterian beliefs and, as an ‘incomer’, it’s kind of expected of me that I’ll oppose them and be a force for modernity. But I find myself with many friends from the Free Church and do recognise the moral dimension brought to our community by regular spiritual worship, in spite of the fact that it seems mumbo jumbo to me.
It seems that both of these belief systems require a suspension of my natural critical disposition before their benefits can be reaped – a jump too far for me at the moment. But the one point that is driven home is that we all determine what our lives will be like by our own attitude.
It’s no use bellyaching about how hard done by we are because, if this is the case, then probably we ourselves are the main cause. And we all have the power to change it, little by little.