Barking Deer


Dear Ezra and Lian,

Here’s a life lesson for you. Even when you are helping someone, let them preserve their dignity. Remember when I told you why I don’t lend money? Well, if you gave someone something for free, it is important that they can pay you back. Even if they don’t owe you anything or you feel like you should take any payback, take it. Don’t let the recipients of your kindness walk around for the rest of their lives, feeling inferior for not giving anything back. Take it graciously and with gratitude. Give them a way to balance the scales. Remember, it’s NOT helping someone if you destroy all their self-worth and motivation to wake up in the morning. When your help ends, they need to carry on. Help them to persevere when you are gone.

Here’s a little story about that.

We had taken a boatload of rice to Samuksury (The Place of the Snails). There are no roads to the village. There’s only a footpath or a small river from Tlabung, near the Bangladesh border. The people there were in desperate shape. Those still well enough, had travelled up to 9 kilometres each way into the jungle looking for wild yams. The millions of rats in Mizoram during mautam couldn’t smell them or dig deep enough to eat the yam roots. For tens of thousands of who only ate what they could grow, this was the only food they had. The rats ate everything else. Oranges, bananas, rice, potatoes; it didn’t matter.

Some elderly people were lying in their beds waiting to die from starvation. Many were losing their eyesight because of the poor nutrition of their diet. They couldn’t see well enough to find yams in the jungle. I interviewed many of them to find out what was happening. They told me about burying their children in the days and weeks previous. Their faces would later appear on Canadian television.

When we started distributing food, 1 “tin” or 9 gallons of rice per family (a ridiculously small amount of food in the midst of a famine) people had such a dejected look on their faces. Many of the men of the village were too embarrassed to even appear with their families. Mostly women and children came to receive the food. As much as possible, we had the residents of the village help with the distribution process. Later, just before we left, the women of the village presented me and my Canadian friends with beautiful hand-woven skirts for my wife. I wished that they had sold the skirts in the market to buy food, but I thanked them profusely.

That evening, the missionaries and villagers cooked a special fest for us. They had hiked the many miles to buy food at the market for us. I felt so bad that they had gone to such expense and trouble to feed us. We were there to feed them. Why couldn’t they just accept our free gift? I was about to feel a lot more guilty. One of the things they bought at the market was Barking Deer meat. It is somewhat rare there. At the time, I thought it was an endangered species. I felt like I was contributing to the possible disappearance of a beautiful animal. As I ate it, I whispered under my breath, “Dear God, forgive me.” Barking Deer tastes so good. Indian Muntjac (Muntiacus vaginalis) is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. I felt so guilty for eating and enjoying it. I ate two plates of barking deer and rice. I ate until I couldn’t eat any more.

In all of this, eating the food prepared for us, cherishing the gifts given us, enlisting the help of the village people, requesting a song from the village (sung with gusto), I hope the people of Samuksury could feel our love and respect for them. They were not losers. A natural disaster had fallen on them. It didn’t reflect on them at all. When the rats were gone, they would be able to provide for their families again. We were only there to help them reach that day.

Whenever you help someone, you have a duty to make sure your help doesn’t make someone’s life worse.

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.