....personal reflections on
                                                       past exchanges......

2013 Winter (incoming)


       There are strange things done in the midnight sun,

        By the men who moil for gold 


A century ago, Robert Service knew all about those who trekked to the Yukon with its promise of enrichment. What would he make of modern folk travelling halfway around the world seeking enjoyment in the sub-Arctic winter? A case in point: two feisty women from South Africa recently took up the reins of dog sleds and mushed along frozen trails near the Ottawa River and in the Haliburton hills. It wasn't the spell of gold that drew them from so far--it was all about the huskies. The visitors couldn't get enough of the dynamic canines during the exchange sponsored by Friendship Force clubs in Ottawa and Haliburton. Just one of the many adventures possible through such international exchanges.

2012 Northern Ireland (outgoing)


During a Friendship Force exchange visit to Northern Ireland, our hosts puzzled us with references to "Stroke City." It seems naming had become a bone of contention between those of different religious persuasions, Derry being dear to Catholic hearts and London-derry being embedded in the Protestant consciousness. "Stroke City" became the fallback term for those seeking compromise.

By any name, the city has a special claim on the affection of those Canadians whose kin found safe haven there at the completion of hazardous runs across the frigid North Atlantic on World War 2 convoy duty. Their bravery is memorialized at the city museum by a prominently mounted bell from a Canadian corvette. 

2013 Cornwall, England (outgoing) 


On a Friendship Force exchange, the Spanish-language welcome--mi casa, su casa--is more than a polite expression. 

Did the airline despatch your luggage to Berlin rather than Vienna? Out goes a call from your Vienna Friendship Force host to tap relatives for clothing to tide you over the weekend. 

Need advice for a kitchen renovation back in Ottawa? Your host in Cornwall, England ushers you into her spanking new kitchen, opening a Pandora's Box of useful tips. And while we're talking about kitchens, why not try your hand at Cornish pasty making? 

And on it goes, this camaraderie that transcends language and cultural differences. 

2010 Vienna, Austria (outgoing)


Throughout Austria, May was going out like a lion. We donned wet gear often during our visit to Vienna's many attractions. Soggily, we paid our particular respects to Viennese musical tradition at the Staatsoper and the Musikverein. Unfazed by the soggy conditions, our Friendship Force host whisked her two lucky guests away to her family's tiny apartment around the corner from Vienna's 'other' opera house--the Volksoper. Well fed on her own schnitzel, the threesome took in that evening's rendering of Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss--who else?

As departure day approached, behold, the Sun! A chance for the Canadian couple to see one final landmark. Not in elegant Vienna but tucked away in a back street of Klosterneuberg--an abbey town up the Danube. Look up on the wall of that time-stained building over there--the one with the ramshackle garden behind. Yes, there it is--a plaque entitled Martinschloss denoting this had once been the dwelling of the musical Von Trapp family. Here was proof the Von Trapps--then unknown to the world of music--had a Klosterneuberg root. 

This was long before their leap to freedom in defiance of Naziism; musical fame would come much later. The talismanic wall plaque was another sort of shrine. These stones, were they able to speak, would have a host of stories to tell about exile, war and uneasy peace. Of that we had no doubt. 

2011 Vina del Mar, Chile, (outgoing) 


Elsewhere on their Chilean travels, the visiting Ottawa folk have lunched on cazuelas a la chilena--hearty casseroles often featuring lamb and corn--with an occasional chorillana for good measure; think poutine with a Latin beat. 

But on the occasion of a foray to Horcones, an ocean-side hamlet, seafood is the order of the day. The Chilean Friendship Force hosts coach the Canadians on the niceties of fishy cuisine. You don't fancy camarones (shrimp) or pulpos (octopus)? Why not try caldillo de congrio--an eel chowder that was famously the subject of a poem by Nobel prize winner, Pablo Neruda?  As you eat, you enjoy the activity in the small harbour with its array of brightly painted fishing dories--a cameo of a life style ever so far removed from northern climes. 

Lunch complete, it's time to mingle with the fisherfolk tending their nets. But wait, Isn't there something familiar about the couple enjoying a coffee on that terrasse? With a flash of recognition, a word of collegial greeting goes out from one of the Ottawa visitors--the one who is an avid motorcyclist back home. She has rightly identified the coffee drinkers as birds of a Canadian feather--fellow motorcyclists who have trekked down the length of North and South America just in time for a pow-wow in this remote hamlet. 

Is there no escape?