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by Ray Wiseman

Canadas scarcity of calamity

Talk about earthquakes. The floor of our second-storey apartment shook. The lamps rocked, my big green chair trembled and a ceramic figurine vibrated across the end table and smashed onto the floor. A horrendous noise accompanied the shaking, like the sound of an air-hammer smashing concrete just yards from where I sat.
I had dozed off in my chair. Typically, I waken slightly confused or disoriented. This time I acted no differently. It took a few seconds to realize some mysterious force had not transported me into a war zone. Neither had I experienced a destructive earthquake akin to the one that struck Haiti. In truth, just outside my window, a workman with an air hammer was demolishing the balcony. Our landlord had set out on a restoration project that included rebuilding the balconies.
Throughout my life I have managed to avoid war zones and riots, even though Anna and I have travelled extensively, often into troubled places. Neither have we met up with natural calamities like earthquakes, destructive winds, floods, nor pestilence. The closest we came to such experiences was reading about floods, tsunamis, earthquakes and riots in the very places we had travelled. But usually those things happened months after we had passed through.
The most scary travel experiences occurred aboard airplanes. On a flight from Johannesburg to Amsterdam we touched down at Nairobi. On takeoff, the tower reported that a tire had burst on our 747. The flight continued to Amsterdam where the captain ordered us to take the brace, or crash position, as we prepared to land. False report: the plane landed smoothly with all tires intact. On a flight across Indonesia, as we approached Jakarta we entered a terrible storm. The captain ordered the crew to take seats and everyone to fasten seat belts. The plane rocked, lightning lit up the sky off the wing tips; we prayed and hung on. The plane landed safely. A fellow passenger said, “Typical landing in this part of the world.”
Truthfully, I experienced more dangerous things as a child in Alberta. In the late 1930s and early ’40s we had vicious dust storms that roared in unexpectedly from the west, darkening the skies so that we had to light the lamps in the day time. At times they blew in windows or moved buildings off their foundations, but I don’t recall anyone dying as a result of them. In the winter I saw temperatures drop so low it made trips from house to barn unsafe and froze water in the well. Again, I never heard of anyone dying, but it must have happened.
At a recent gathering of 24 typical Canadians, I asked if they in their lifetimes had experienced tragedies that had resulted in destruction of their homes or deaths. I suggested they include a direct hit from a tornado, a flood like the recent one in Pakistan, an earthquake of the sort that ravaged Haiti, an airplane crash or a war or insurrection.
All of them said, “No,” with the exception of five who lived their early years in Europe during World War II.
As Canadians, we complain a lot. But most of us don’t know how good we have it in Canada when compared with almost every other place in the world.

Vol 43 Issue 34


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