Letter of Apology to Yoli Oqueli (by Emilie Smith)

June 15, 2012

Dear Yoli,

I have no words in my heart or mouth that could possibly express my outrage and grief over what has happened.  The harm to your precious sacred person is vile and inexcusable.  The intended harm to your soul, your spirit, your struggle, and the struggle of all those, who like you, are in love with the Earth – fertile, living dirt, and her lifeblood —  running water, is beyond comprehension.  All those, around the world, who love life fiercely are horrified and shattered – and furious.  How dare any one, whoever they may be, feel themselves so full of righteousness and power, that they would act in such a cowardly fashion!  But in the end, those who carried the pistols, are not the ones responsible for this hideous attack on your life.  I am.

Never have I felt more ashamed to be a Canadian.

In my Christian religion there are two kinds of sin: sins of commission and sins of omission.   The former are things that we do consciously and actively to harm God’s good creation.  The latter sins are the harm we do, by doing nothing.  Most Canadians, undoubtedly, wouldn’t in their wildest dreams have picked up a gun to hurt you.  But every last one of us, is collectively responsible for what happens in our name, and all of us benefit financially from our church, union and even national Canadian Pension Plans’ investment in Canadian mining companies around the world, in Guatemala, and in your corner of the earth, San José del Golfo.   For this, I am profoundly ashamed, and indescribably sorry.

Neither is not knowing an excuse.  Every one of us, as we quietly remove the Canadian flags sewn onto our backpacks, and pocket those little pins they give us on Canada Day, should know by now: around the world, in our name, and to our financial benefit, Canadian mining companies are destroying the earth.  Chasing after the love of gold and money, they care not for communities, the land, the water, or due process of consultation, or the fair sharing of profits.  They come, blow the earth up, suck up the water, leaving cesspools of poison behind.  And promising trinkets, ‘development’ and jobs to the desperately poor and starving, they divide households and communities, leaving bloodshed and fear in their wake.

And then without a speck of dirt under their fingernails, satisfied that they have done some good for the poor in the world, helped out their moms and their pops back in Canada, retire to their clubs and their pools to relax after a hard day’s work.

You asked me to pray for you, Yoli, that day we spent with you at the blockade.  You asked me once and again, with some fear, urgency and perhaps with a sense of what could happen.   And you brought us broth with rice, and tortillas, and crackers.  We were hungry, and it was good to eat at your table.  Thank you for all you gave to us that day, and all that you taught us about the value of the earth, and all of the precious men, women and children, sleeping on the highway to protect their holy hill.  

I promised to pray Yoli, and I have, and I will.  I pray for your recovery, and return to full health, of body, mind and spirit.  I pray for your family.  I pray for all those still on the peaceful blockade.  I pray for those who carried the guns, and shot them.  May they have a turn in their hearts, and be sorry, and learn to love the true God of Life.  I pray for the desperately ill, those mining men and women, who have become so terribly confused, and have aligned themselves with the false god of money, and have betrayed their own most sacred nature.

“Come now you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.  Your riches have rotted . . .your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be evidence against you . . .”  Letter of James 5:1

Yoli, as you lie in your hospital bed, may the unknowable mystery of the healing God of Love, work Her miracle, to reknit your damaged body, and may all those who love you, gain courage and strength from your faithful witness, as we walk together on this journey.


With Love,



Note:  On June 13, 2012, community leader Yolanda Oqueli Veliz, was ambushed and shot by unknown assailants on a motorcycle, as she was leaving the peaceful blockade to the entrance of the proposed site of the Tambor gold mine, 28 kilometres northeast of Guatemala City.   The blockade has been maintained by inhabitants of two affected communities, San José del Golfo, and San Pedro Ayumpac.  They are protesting that – contrary to national and international law — no public consultation had taken place before the Guatemalan government gave the go ahead for the mine on February 27th.  The mine is one hundred per cent owned by the Canadian company, Radius Gold, Inc., based in Vancouver, B.C.


(The Reverend) Emilie Smith, is priest in the Anglican Church of Canada, and Co-President of the Oscar Romero International Christian Network in Solidarity with the Peoples of Latin America (SICSAL)  emilietsmith@gmail.com

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Reflections of a Year Abroad (Mapping a Go Global Year)

I’m writing with the view of the beautiful lake that I’m grateful to call home. It’s been eighteen months since I was last here and as I sip a warm cup of tea in this old table that brings back so many memories I am amazed at the weird turns that my life has taken in the last few years…

Growing up I always met travelers who had gone around the world, reaching our little town with their huge backpacks, thoroughly independent, speaking many languages and not caring about where they slept or what they ate or even how often they showered (six-year-old-me loved the idea of not showering). They were adventurous, colourful and always excited about the little things that were so normal for us. I think it was from them, their stories, and my addiction to books that my favorite hobby became “to travel.” The number one place in my list would have probably been Hogwarts.

I’m happy to say I have been incredibly lucky and have been to many more places than most people my age have, even before I thought about studying in Canada. And yet, I don’t think I ever really pictured myself lost in a Turkish bazaar, drinking tea in a small hostel in the Lebanese mountains or taking a roadtrip in the Cypriot wilderness to discover centuries-old byzantine churches. When thinking about the world I’m a bit ashamed to accept that I was always limited to the Americas and Europe. Silly me.

And so one day I was looking through the Go Global partners list and was suddenly deciding between South Africa and Turkey. What did I do to be so lucky, UBC?

It would take forever for me to write in detail about all the things that happened since I was last in Vancouver. Lets just say that I fell in love over and over again; with the sceneries I found myself in, the people I was suddenly meeting, the experiences that I was somehow a part of. So instead of writing, and because I kind of like maps, I will instead map my journey during my year abroad:

North American excursions: freezing in the rockies and seeing Shakespear in the Park. (3 months)

From Torino to Istanbul: trains, ferries, and fancy busses. (1 month)

Turkish delights: how to turn weekends into 5-day trips – and still call them weekends. (throughout 10 months)

Skip school. Get on a plane. Go somewhere new. (throughout 10 months)











I’m happy to say that I now own a big backpack, speak a few languages, feel at least a bit independent, have lots of colourful clothes and for the most part don’t care about where I sleep or what I eat (although I did grow out of my aversion to showers). All I need now is for someone to please show me the way to Hogwarts !

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My first -and most probably last- mini post in Turkish

Bu ilkbahar tatilinde benim fransiz arkadasim, Bertrand, Istanbul’a geldi, bu bizim Kara Deniz ‘e yolculuğumuz. Once biz Trabzon’a uctuk. Orada universitenin bir yurdunda kaldık. Sonraki gun Sumela Manastırı’na gittik. Sumela Manastırı ormanda buyuk bir dagda. O gece, biz yasli bir koylu kadinin bahcesinde cadir kurduk ve orda kaldik. Yasli kadin cok tatliydi, bize ev yapimi tereyagi, kaymak ve guzel findiklar verdi, ve sabahleyin taze sut de verdi.

Ordu’ya otostop yaptik, ama orada sadece bir gece kaldik cunku Ordu cok guzel bir sehir degildi. Sonra, Sinop’a gittik, guzel ve tatli bir liman sehriydi. Bircok tekne ve iyi lokanta vardi. En guzel turk kahvaltisinı orada yedik. Bircok ev yapimi recel, cok guzel kaymak, yumurtalar, zeytinler ve peynirler vardi, hepsi icin on lira verdim!

Daha sonra Amasra’ya gitmek istedik, ama o Sinop’tan cok uzaktaydi. Bu nedenle, biz Doganyurt’ta bir gece kaldik. Doganyurt’ta kucuk bir liman vardi ve herkes bizim ile konusmak istedi.
Orada yasli bir adamin evinde kaldik. O Almanya’ya gitti ve Almanca konustu. Ordan sonra Amasra’ya gittik, o en sevdiğim sehirdi. Orada iki gun kaldik, kucuk bir pansiyonda uyuduk. Burası denizden uzak degildi. Bu gunler cok gunesliydi, ve ben her zaman guneslendim. Bircok cay ictik ve yuruduk de. Daha sonra Istanbul’a donduk, cok multluyduk.


So I recently gave up on my Turkish, but it was nice trying ! Hopefully some day I will meet a Turkish person and remember how to say “Merhaba, benim adım Valentina” and from there move on to signs and English.

Güle güle Türkçe!

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Turkish Kahvaltı

If there is one thing that should be enough to make any person come to Turkey it’s definitely the Turkish Breakfast.

There is simply nothing better than to walk around Beşiktaş (my new neighborhood!) and randomly choose amongst the many kahvaltı salonları -breakfast rooms- at literally any time of the day. I have seen those places crowded at 7 pm, and more than once I’ve gone from breakfast to getting ready to go out (a year on exchange can do that do you).

The Turkish Breakfast usually starts with a good old cup of Turkish çay (tea) followed by fresh white bread and what I can only describe as heaven-in-your-mouth: bal kaymak.

Bal Kaymak (Honey Kaymak) is just about the best thing I’ve ever had in my life. It’s perfection with honey. It’s the best bread spread in history and I’m not exaggerating at all. A friend recently tried it and felt the urge to send me an email that said nothing else but this:

“I had kaymak with honey last night. I am weeping. For years, days, seconds lost without my true love.”

Yes. It is that good and even better.

After this perfect start the breakfast moves on to fresh tomatoes, cucumber and green peppers. Add to that a selection of cheeses, of which a stringy one is my favorite. Sometimes it will include a boiled egg and it will never miss green and black olives in olive oil with spices. Other additions vary depending on the place and can include home-made jam, butter, spicy tomato spread, yogurt and herbs spread and salami. Of course, all throughout there is non-stop çay and bread.

The trick is to eat enough but not too much,
as all this is followed by a delicious, right-out-of-the-kitchen menemen. Menemen is a type of scrambled eggs cooked with tomatoes, green pepper and sometimes cheese, served in the pan and just ready to burn your mouth as it is impossible to wait until it cools down to eat it.

To start my day (and sometimes night) I usually like to finish the two- (three-, four-, five-) hour breakfast with a cup of çay, a bread with Bal Kaymak, a good backgammon game and once in a while a Turkish coffee to have my fortune read by the cook.

So there you have it, the best of Turkey.


Turkish Delights

Dear Blog,

It’s been so long – I’m sorry !

In the next couple of days [weeks] I’ll try to catch up on all the things from my messy crazy-fun-on-exchange life. For now I leave you with a new category: Turkish Delights, for all the sweet things from Turkey, with their nuts and spices.

Also, two weird things from Turkey:

1. You know how you can usually buy little things like tissues and snacks on the side of busy streets? In Istanbul you can weigh yourself. For a lira (like 50 cents).

2. Showing off the bandages from your recent nose job seems to be the most rational thing to do. I have now seen more than 15 people going about their day looking like this.

And, finally, a note for all of you considering Go Global…. DO IT.

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Aquí Estoy

regresando del valle

Estoy en un bus con musica en árabe a todo volumen, la gente fumando por todos lados. Estoy siguiendo un camino de cabras, visitando monasterios antiguos en el valle sagrado – Qadisha. Estoy comiendo falafel con menta; zatar con tomates y olivas. Estoy de bar en bar, todos chiquitos y con mucha personalidad. Estoy en hamamsabandonados hace cientos de años. Estoy en ruinas increiblemente preservadas, de todas formas y tamaños. Estoy entre cedros nevados. Estoy caminando a la par del mar. Estoy oliendo jabones hechos a mano, de mil esencias, sus tinturas pintandome la mano.

pan bolsa?

Estoy compartiendo musica, dulces y otros sabores con muchas personas de muchos lugares. Estoy en cuevas más grandes de lo que jamás hubiera imaginado. Estoy perdiendome en souqs de todos colores, en lenguas extrañas. Estoy en Beirut. Estoy en Líbano.

una tarde en la playa


el mar


la vista desde las montañas, el mar a lo lejos

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Cotton Castles and Ancient Ruins: A Weekend in Asia

Traveling with a group of six girls is a bit of a hassle and a lot of fun: way too many unwanted attentions and just the right amount of gossip to have a blast in another three-day-weekend adventure.

This time we flew south to the land where St. Paul, the Virgin Mary, Marc Anthony and Cleopatra all lived in at one point in history.

We visited Mary’s house, which is surrounded by beautiful olive trees, and even though I am not religious it was impossible to not appreciate people’s faith as they came from all around the world to touch the holy water from the fountain and write a wish to entrust the virgin with.

The Ephesus library

That same day we walked for hours in Ephesus, simply amazed by how people so many years ago could build such monuments. It’s all very well preserved, but only 15% of it has been uncovered until now. The library (which is the best known building of the site) was all that it promised to be: tall and standing -as always. My favorite part? the public bathrooms, the 24-thousand-person theater and having a well deserved Efes (the most popular Turkish beer) in Ephesus.

After a beautiful sunset at the beach we were met at the hostel by one of the best turkish dishes I’ve had so far -which of course included eggplant- a fire, a pool table and backgammon.

Cotton Castle

The next day we visited a unique geological formation, Pamukkale (literally Cotton Castle in Turkish). Also called ‘White Shelves,’ this place is a natural wonder of calcium deposits and about 50 other minerals that have covered the mountainside in a white-ish rock that could easily be confused with snow if it wasn’t surrounded by palm trees. A city of about 100,000 people developed around this area in the greco-roman times and the pools of warm spring water were believed to have curative qualities -which meant that a lot of old rich people moved there and that today there are a lot of beautifully carved sarcophagus(es?). This was also the city where Cleopatra had a very special venom developed to kill her sister Arsinoe so that, ironically, she wouldn’t suffer in the process. Today we call it arsenic.

The last standing column - with what must be a very fertile family of birds living on it

On Sunday morning we visited one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: the one remaining column of the Temple of Artemis, goddess of war and fertility (hoping that we wouldn’t be blessed by either of her qualities!) and in the afternoon we headed to Izmir. Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey but it was cloudy and windy when we got there and it didn’t seem very impressive compared to Istanbul. Even so, we had a very relaxing afternoon drinking çay by the sea and having a small backgammon tournament which, yes, I did win.

Finally, we took an early flight on Monday, took a cab back to Europe and made it just in time for our 12.30 class!

Google Map... It

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A weekend in Istanbul

As nice as the Koc campus is, we can all get a little lazy when it comes to taking two buses and a metro to be in Taksim (downtown). So this weekend three other girls and I decided to find a hostel and stay in the city centre.

We stayed at a really nice hostel called Neverland, full of bright paintings on the wall and signs saying social justice slogans like “It’s just asylum, give it away.” I loved it. The neighborhood was really nice too, we found a nice little place to eat nearby and it was definitely walking distance from Istiklal, the main street.

Istiklal is something wroth seeing. It’s huge and always crowded, kind of like Vancouver during the olympics – except every day. At any time. I mean 4 in the morning and still crowded. It’s like you’re in a school of fish and if you try to walk on the wrong side people will hit you from all sides and not even realize it. It’s also always decorated with lights like it’s Christmas, which I find very funny because Christmas is not even celebrated here!

All around Istiklal there are little streets that brach out and become dead-end labyrinths, and exploring them is basically what we did all weekend. We found an amazing area with tons of vintage clothes stores, had delicious minty lemonade and walked into a homemade turkish vegetarian food place!!! it was AMAZING.

On Thursday we (they) had fish by the Bosphorus, on Friday we got lost in second-hand stores, on Saturday we saw the most amazing view of the city at night from the Galata Tower (the oldest tower still open in the world!). We danced all night every night- and even found a latin club that will be seeing lots of me from now on!

Last weekend we went to Cappadocia and saw crazy rock formations with houses built into them, next weekend we’re heading to Izmir to see one of the best preserved ancient greek-roman cities, Ephesus. In November I’m spending 10 days in Lebanon. Classes are good, even my Turkish is slowly improving. Go Global, I love you.

Rock houses in Cappadocia

Rock formations in Cappadocia

View from the Galata Tower at night

I'm a fish in Istiklal

This is where we eat

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Class (and potato)

It’s my third day of class and I ‘m already behind on my readings. I’m sorry 80-pages-of-turkish-history-due-tomorrow, you’ll have to wait until I write a blog post.

Classes have been as good as can be expected so far, except for the fact that I had to figure out how to work the library all over again. There’s one class that I’m not really a fan of – Research  Methods in the Social Sciences, but I have to take it for a geography requirement, so I guess I should try to stay positive about it :) Apart from that one I really like all my other classes, especially one called Islamic Cities (for which I also have a lot of readings!!)

We’ve been doing some serious tourism in the old part of Istanbul and it is just beautiful. Also, I swear that everyone parties as if it was New Year’s every night here (or maybe it’s an exchange student thing?).. I’m not sure, but yesterday I couldn’t do it anymore and I slept for 15 hours non-stop, it was awesome.

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This is how Turkish grammar works

I got an email today from my RA and thanks to google translate I could get the overall message. I think it’s a good example of how Turkish grammar is different from English/Spanish/any language I know a bit of…

Welcome to the West to the Fatherland [West Campus]. Peaceful, quiet geçirmemizi [?] I wish the fall semester. Building A6, and the remaining 148 people for 4 months of each other’s neighbor, and friend, we will be.
A6 building, 2 RA (Resident Assistant) has been working student.
Gülsen Living – A6 108
Pamela Karatas – A6 308
You’ll want to help our students in any respect from me and the RA.”

In all seriousness though, I’ve started to really really like the sound of Turkish. I especially like the way they say my name, making a long e, like “valeeeentina.”

I’ve got my first Turkish class tomorrow and I can’t wait!

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