An idiot returns from abroad

Michael Johansen
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My cheap slippers are easily the brightest thing in the room, outshining even a newly laid fire in the woodstove.

I call them cheap not only because they’ve got the thinnest rubber soles possible and are otherwise made of cloth that borders on being paper, but also because two pairs of them cost me absolutely nothing — beyond the price of a room in a modest Indonesian hotel.

The complimentary slippers, still clean, are mostly white, but the soles and crossbands are trimmed with an almost neon yellow. Prominently displayed in the middle of the bands are red sunbursts set in a square of the same yellow. The name of the hotel is printed underneath.

They’re beach slippers, but that hotel was nowhere near the ocean, located instead between an amusement park and a district full of government agencies. The hotel’s guests (who were largely there on business) mostly wore them barefoot to get breakfast in a dining room that an air conditioner struggles to keep below 25 C.

In near-equatorial Indonesia, the slippers are well suited for heat and humidity, but in a frosty Ontario cottage they’re good for the opposite, too. They protect tropically-pampered feet from a frigid wooden floor.

Returning home from a long trip always requires a period of adjustment — not just to Labrador’s climate, but to any other changes that may have occurred. Sadly, I am returning to a region that is deep in mourning for a loss that can never make any sense.

Everyone stands behind the devastated people of Happy Valley-Goose Bay and the family of Loretta Saunders who will never be able to stop wondering how one of their own, someone of such exceptional promise, could leave home in pursuit of lofty dreams and noble goals only to meet a most horrible, barely imaginable fate.

Anyone returning to any home at a time like this cannot help but reflect about those who are forever unable to do the same. While away, I can only faintly imagine how deep the loss of this bright young woman has cut, but on the way home I may be able to discover how widely it is actually being felt.

After the writing of this column, but before its publication, the many vigils — held first to express unflagging hope for the safe return of the then-missing young woman — will have spread to Ottawa to protest the federal government’s intransigence in the face of demands for an investigation into exactly the issue Ms. Saunders had been studying: how so many aboriginal women and girls across Canada could go missing, or get murdered.

Labradorians — and many other genuinely concerned citizens — will not be surprised by the Conservative party’s refusal to look into the ongoing tragedy, given its steadfast “no” to an inquiry into the national search-and-rescue system following the death of Burton Winters.

But the government may not be able to avoid the issue forever. According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, as of March 2010, a total of 582 aboriginal girls and women had gone missing or been murdered across the country and almost half of the cases remain unsolved — a figure that is triple the national rate.

Of course, this tragic incident is not the only event that will have affected Labrador over the long winter of my absence. Another loss that is certainly not being mourned is that of Kathy Dunderdale from the premier’s office. It remains to be seen, however, if her departure will have anywhere near the importance for the province’s mainland region as the aforementioned tragedy.

As welcomed as Dunderdale’s resignation was, it seems to have done little to alter Newfoundland and Labrador’s headlong rush into megaproject debt and despair, since the Progressive Conservatives seem determined to outstay their mandate for more than a year (under a temporary leader who’s implementing unsanctioned policies), which will give them plenty of time to pour what’s left of the public purse into private pockets.

Dunderdale’s departure wasn’t important enough to bring the Muskrat Falls destruction project to a halt.

With such a welcome home, this idiot may be a bit wiser, but I’m a little colder and a lot sadder.

Michael Johansen is a writer

living in Labrador.

Organizations: Native Women, Association of Canada, Progressive Conservatives

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Indonesia, Ontario Happy Valley Goose Bay Ottawa Canada

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