Dear Ezra and Lian,

In December, 1999, it was between the First and Second Intifada. There was peace in Israel and Palestine. The Palestinian Authority especially were making an extra effort to welcome tourists for the new millennium celebrations. There were big plans for Christmas Eve programs in Bethlehem.

It was a special time. I feel privileged to have been there at that time. There were tens of thousands of foreign tourists. Every day we made new friends and would hang out and do stuff together; especially us backpackers. One day, a Buddhist friend from the U.K. and I decided we should visit Hebron. We didn’t take an Israeli Egged bus. We took a Palestinian bus leaving from the Damascus Gate.

The bus dropped us off in the centre of Hebron. We set out for the Cave of the Patriarchs, one mile away. As we walked along the street, there were two young men watching us. As we approached, one of them, pulled out a handgun and pointed it at me. I did a bit of stutter step, but I kept walking.

Strangely, the two guys never said anything. They never motioned with the gun for me to stop or to raise my hands. So I didn’t. I maintained an expressionless eye contact. I never said anything or gave any gestures of any kind. But I kept on walking. I don’t think my friend saw the gun. We never talked about it. After about 30 second of walking, these guys were now about 50 feet away from me, so I turned my head and looked straight ahead. After about a minute, I let out a sigh of relief as I figured they were too far away to shoot me now. Since I can still walk now, you’ve probably guessed that they did never fired a shot at me.

About 10 minutes later we arrived at the Cave of the Patriarchs. There was a large unit of Israeli soldiers there (about 30). They provided security for this famous site. They were completely kitted out with machine guns, grenade launchers, mortars, automatic rifles, armoured personnel carriers and jeeps. They were doing running drills carrying their weapons. My friend wanted pictures with them. I took photos of him hugging young, smiling Israeli soldiers or they would pretend to be shooting him. After having a Palestinian pull a gun on me earlier, I figured I didn’t want the picture in my camera. Besides, I never used to be much for pictures.

When we went back to Jerusalem, we ended up on a bullet proof glass, tour bus. We left right from the Cave of the Patriarchs. That seemed the better way to go.

Now your Grandpa in Mizoram survived an entire career as a police officer in India. I know he experienced more dangerous things than this. I’m sure he could give you some great professional advice about staying safe. He was also the State of Maharashtra Police Pistol shooting champion. All the same, here’s an amateur’s take on things.

I had spent about two weeks enduring Palestinian violence. I had been hit with stones flung from slingshots (it hurts a lot). I had seen girls get hit and cry their eyes out with the pain. I had seen a huge fight between UN peacekeepers and Palestinians at the Damascus Gate (they were provoked by the so-called peacekeepers.) I had seen Palestinian men shout violently at young women for wearing shorts or eating during Ramadan. By the time, I arrived in Hebron, without even realizing it, I was now resisting their authority to order people around. If you point a gun at me, I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of watching me easily surrender to your will. You are going to have to order me to stop and raise my hands. You want to rob me? Walk over here and take my wallet. I won’t stop you.

It was stupid, but this is why young men do stupid stuff and get themselves shot. Push a man around long enough and he will resist. Imagine if you lived in a place where you spent your whole life like that. You won’t easily cooperate with whoever is holding the gun.

It was even more foolhardy for those two young guys to point that gun at me. There were 30 Israeli soldiers eager, trained and completely outfitted to kill them. They just needed a good excuse. Pointing a gun at an unarmed tourist would be more than enough. Young men marking territory and claiming authority over the actions of others is another good way to get shot. There’s always a bigger bully with a bigger gun.

I spent my teen years and big chunks of my twenties sleeping in a bed with a .22 rifle and a 30 gauge shotgun beside or under it. (Cue the dueling banjos music.) Strangely I never shot those firearms or any other gun. Killing rabid or nuisance animals was grandpa’s job. My grandpas and uncles hunted a lot. I’m not afraid of them, but firearms are dangerous tools. I remember in grade school, looking at a schoolmate’s leg that had just had a .22 bullet pulled out. He got shot by a hunter carelessly firing into the air. That sort of thing happens around guns. Geography affects violence. It doesn’t happen randomly. Our old neighbourhood here in Pickering had become a much more violent and dangerous place than where we live now. Our family had no reasons to justify us to keep living there. When we had finally come to accept that fact, we moved. Hebron is one of those violent places in the world. I thought it temporarily had become peaceful enough to make a trip there worthwhile. I was wrong. I ticked a few things off my sightseeing list, but it wasn’t worth the risk.

Those who live by sword tend to die by sword, or at least see more death than usual. Those who carry firearms make themselves targets for violence. Often the good done by being a police officer justifies the accompanying risk. Before you decide to bear arms, think long and hard whether what you are doing is worth the risk.

My whole encounter in Hebron involved two young men reading each other’s faces and doing a risk assessment. We listened to the other’s body language and heard no real threat. It ended well because we correctly assumed that the other posed no risk to body or ego. I never yelled for help. He never shot. We both walked away alive. Ezra, buddy, because of your autism, this will be extremely difficult for you. Listening to non-verbal communication for many people with ASD is practically impossible. Atypically, you do have some ability doing this. However, don’t let this fool you into believing you will be good at in a life or death situation. Every year many non-threatening people get killed because their risk assessments get botched and communication breaks down. It’s not even easy for trained professionals. It’s much more difficult for amateurs.

There are two main strategies, Ezra, you need to use to compensate. First, you need to use your words. You need to vocalize the words, “I’m not a threat. I have autism.” Repeat it often. Someone may misinterpret your actions as a threat or a challenge. You need to say it out loud that because of your autism, you are not challenging them. Even teachers and their aides need to hear it. You are not being oppositional or confrontational. You just need some extra understanding.

Second, don’t go to places like Hebron, unless there’s some great purpose for you there. Taking a few pictures doesn’t count as a great purpose. It is far easier to avoid complicated or dangerous situations than it is to get out of them.

This letter is already too long. I will stop now.








Dear Ezra and Lian,

I’m not a weapons smuggler, but I AM a bit of a smuggler. Telling you that, publically or otherwise, means I have sworn off smuggling. Those days are behind me. I promise you, I won’t be smuggling things and risking big fines or jail time. You really have no idea how difficult that is for me to say. The fact is sometimes evil governments forbid good things for their citizens. For instance, they would rather let tens of thousands of people starve to death just because they are on the other side of a border. If there is a ban on exporting food to them, I’m the type of guy who is going to ignore that unjust law. I’m not going to say too much because I would be endangering the lives and welfare of friends and those I’ve helped. That particular government is in the process of being replaced by a democratic one so I feel partially confident in telling you this.

It all started when I was 16. Remember that trip to East Germany? The trip changed my life. It also taught me, if you can deal with the fear, smuggling isn’t that difficult (if successful). Our group of teenagers took Christian books and music that was illegal in East Germany. That night before we got on the train to enter East Germany, I couldn’t even go to bed.

On the train, border guards came through our train. They never looked through our stuff. One pass. Ticket collector (working for the government) never saw our stuff. Two passes. At some point, dozens of Russian soldiers (probably only 3, but it seemed like a train-full to a nervous teenager) got on our train. A couple got in our cabin. They never opened our bags to see a keyboard (extremely rare in East Germany and worth a lot of money there). The Russians instead tried to make friendly conversation in very limited English. Three passes. We got picked up at the train station by the East German pastor (Rolf Heidel) and neither there or on the way to the church, no police officers stopped us. 4 passes and success. I was hooked on the adrenaline rush. The look of joy when someone gets the impossible brings a sense of satisfaction that few other things ever can.

Once when I was taking used microscopes to India, I got stopped in the Delhi airport. The custom officers pulled me aside for an inspection. The one time I’m not smuggling anything across a border and they try to squeeze a $1000 bribe out of me. I asked to speak to their commanding officer. I sat there for a couple hours. They refused to let me go or talk to their boss. I refused to pay. I told them it was for charity and helping poor villagers suffering from malaria. A senior custom official asked which charity. I told him and he said, “All the churches in the North East work for the CIA.” Finally, I pulled out my trump card. “Here’s my father-in-law’s cell phone number. He’s an Inspector General of Police in Maharashtra. You tell him what law I’m breaking. Until then, I’m not paying you 1 rupee or leaving these microscopes behind.” I could see the little boss go talk to the big boss through the glass in their office. After a few minutes, they came out and let me and the microscopes go.

It was my own fault. I was carrying a full hockey bag in the middle of business men carrying small, smart suitcases on wheels. It was the middle of the afternoon and I was dressed like a backpacker. The custom guys probably just pulled me aside just because they were bored and I looked like an easy victim.

Remember when we’re travelling, you won’t find anything interesting in our luggage. It’s like a wasted opportunity, but I will play it safe. I promise.

Love, Dad

Lonely Goat




Dear Ezra and Lian,

The whole time I was watching this video last year, I kept thinking about how good goat tastes. Sorry, I couldn’t help it. Then I started thinking about the sacrifices that people have made so that I could eat it.

One such time in Guinea (It’s located in West Africa.), a nineteen year old Basari man gave me and my friends his goat to eat. Now this goat was about half way to fulfilling his betrothed wife’s dowry. Without that goat, he wasn’t going get more goat kids and the 4 bolts of cloth that he needed. He had nothing then. He gave his goat freely to honour us. It also meant his whole future was in doubt (it’s a long story). Before we left, we made sure that he had enough money for his entire dowry. He was a good man, in a difficult circumstance with a lot of faith. He deserved the help.

We were all sitting on the floor of “our hut”. We were in a circle eating from one big bowl with our hands. First time in days it wasn’t chicken. Toeytain’s goat, rice, peanuts and chilies; it was delicious as long as I stayed away from the chilies. The Basari don’t let any part of the goat go to waste. If it’s edible, it’s in that pot. So in one of my mouthfuls of food, there was a 2 inch piece of intestine. It got stuck in the back of my throat. It is sort of like having a hard rubber hose there. I couldn’t cough it up and I couldn’t swallow it. I tried and tried. Finally, I had to relax my muscles and let it slide down into my stomach. I think I felt it go slowly down the whole way.

Some things are hard to swallow and I just need to learn to relax. Hey, I get how touching and entertaining this video is. I am not sitting in judgment. Just observing that I live in a bizarro-world. However, how could I ever explain this to Toeytain; driving a trailer for 14 hours to haul a donkey so that a goat could have his long, lost friend back? It took about that long to get from Dakar, Senegal to Toeytain’s village in Guinea, but there were 17 border checkpoints to go through. Lots of time spent charming bureaucrats, guards and wardens so that supplies for the Basari made it through + the worst roads/long ruts I have ever seen in my life. Trust me, we “wasted” far more money hauling a bunch of over-fed guys from Canada to Guinea then moving a single burro. All the same, we have become so jaded in our society now. We have all seen the pictures of little kids who haven’t eaten for days. We quickly flip to another channel. A lonely goat can move us. A starving child not so much.

I am always torn between hiding information about children from around the world and telling you everything I have ever seen a child suffer. On July 16th, Ezra, you were moaning about how bad your life is. You were genuinely surprised that other kids have it far worse than you. I have seen kids have it so bad, that later it will drop me to my knees and weep in remembrance.

It is natural growing up in Canada that you will lose all sense of perspective. Since you see so little genuine suffering, you don’t realize how good you have it or how bad other kids actually live. I know I have to be careful not to make you too sad Ezra, but you need to know the truth. You need to learn just how privileged you are to grow up in Canada and to be able to freely travel to the US on a really nice vacation like we just had. Literally, goats, dogs and cats have a more comfortable life here, then millions of children around the world.

Toeytain’s whole future rested on the life and health of a single goat, living during a time of drought. You kids here, have a whole “village” of people who love, care and provide for you. Every day you get to learn and be entertained and be well fed. Hundreds of millions of kids rarely get any of that. Every day they are working to just stay alive and maybe healthy. Please, please, please be grateful for what you have.