Maybe someone moved the hydro wires – Paddling and Projects (7)

Two short lessons in this blog.

  • First, test your assumptions, the simplest explanation is usually correct
  • Second, know what your most important tradeoffs are

This story gets repeated every time there is a question of exactly where we are.  The first time the canoe group went to Quetico, a park in the north-west of Ontario near the Manitoba border, the lakes were bigger than we were used to, and by the time that we had crossed a lake, they weren’t sure which Bay they were in.  The portages in Quetico aren’t marked, so you really need to figure it out from the map and your surroundings.  That didn’t stop people from having strong opinions about where they were.

One person was insistent that we had to be in a bay that the map showed power transmission  lines running across.  There were no wires to be seen.  He was so confident he was right he argued that ‘maybe someone moved the hydro lines’.

Which is the most likely:  that the wires were moved in the middle of nowhere, or that some one isn’t where they think?

We all get blinded by our assumptions. We need to validate them constantly; we need to take in new information, and we need to admit that the most simple answer is usually correct.  And when we are lost or wrong, we can’t keep justifying our position with more and more outrageous assumptions. Instead we adjust our position as new data comes to light.

Tradeoffs – don’t take cheap chocolate into the woods

On the canoe trip,  we eat (expensive) Lindt Chocolate as a treat after dinner.  The cheeses we snack on at lunch are double smoked gouda,  or 10—year plus aged cheddars.  I couldn’t believe it one time when we pulled out a hunk of cheese – the same size as a large cheddar you might buy at the supermarket – and someone remarked it was $50 worth of memolet.  It is delicious, by the way, and we take it with us every time now.

The pancakes get real maple syrup.


After camp is set up, we’re more likely to drink Vodka or single Malt scotch than wine.

When you have to carry everything in a pack on your back, the ratio of weight and size (or density) to pleasure and/or utility become the most important tradeoffs.  A trip is only 4-5 days so splurging on more expensive, smaller items won’t break the bank.  And if you want to relax with a drink at the end of the day, it is better to drink some Vodka and water (or Tang) from the lake than lug five times the volume of wine or even worse – beer. There are space limitations in the canoe, too.

Similarly, in your project, know what’s most important to the team. To the business.  What can be traded off to get the maximum value within the budget.  Often businesses try to constrain everything.

I want it fast; I want it cheap; I want it great, and I want unlimited scope.  For a fixed price. Its not realistic.  There are always tradeoffs.

One of the great benefits of Agile techniques – and how these 2 lessons tie together – is the ability to constantly adjust priorities based on new information. Each sprint or iteration is an option to reset, refocus on what’s most important. But to do that, you need to be aware and not blinded by your assumptions, and you need to know what’s most important and what can be traded off.




“Any fool can be uncomfortable in the woods” – Paddling and Projects lessons learned (6)

This story happened before I joined this core group of canoeists, but it probably gets re-told every year.  Early in his camping experience, my friend Graham was surprised when someone brought out a down vest on a camping trip in the late summer. It was getting cooler as the evening came on and he wished he could have one.  When Graham asked about carrying winter clothing on a canoe trip on a summer day , the answer was ‘any fool can be uncomfortable in the woods.’

The down vest is light, it can be rolled up and used as a pillow.  It’s a great tradeoff.

The point here is that there are many tips and techniques that can make canoeing more comfortable. If you follow the process properly, you can be comfortable regardless of whether it rains or shines, regardless of the temperature.  Like you were born to it.

We’ve brought hammocks, inflatable couches, and enough tarps to keep the wind out and the rain off the kitchen area at the same time. Layers that allow you to keep warm or cool off.  We plan our route so that we avoid big open water or make sure we hit it early in the day when the wind is usually lighter.  There is a right way to pack your knapsack and canoe so that everything fits and is easy to get in and out.




The analogy in IT projects would be method.  We have methodologies that help make the journey easier.  Are we following them?  Or are we stumbling around, shivering in a t-shirt on a cold and rainy day?

Like method, the right tool for the right job is just as important in canoeing as it is in consulting.

When camping, we have dedicated stoves, pots and pans.  A saw that collapses into a tube to be carried easily in a pack.  A water filtration system that cleans the water before drinking.

Even our canoe. The Voyageur is an example of the right tool for the right job. It’s based on the  Prospector hull style and it is one of the most popular type of tripping canoe’s.  It has a high gunnel (the side of the canoe) which makes it great for carrying lots of weight and still be safe if the waves get high.  You can see it cut through the water more easily than the rentals we sometimes use.  A Voyageur can carry large amounts of gear while being maneuverable enough for rapids – which we mostly avoid. This makes it a superb large capacity wilderness boat. But those high gunnels also mean it can get blown around a lot if you are paddling by yourself on a windy day. No tool is perfect for everything.


Other people would choose the ultra-light 35 lb canoe.  But they are constrained in the amount of gear that they can carry and we’ve seen those boats with a hull cracked as they went over a beaver dam.

So make sure you have right tools for your project. And be wary of all-purpose tools that have breadth but no depth…. If they’re not the right tool for a single job, they are the wrong tool for every job!


Don’t watch the far end of the lake, you see your progress by what you pass (Paddling and Projects)

Whenever I show pictures from a canoe trip, I invariably get the question “you were there?” with the tone implying a sense of envy. The lakes and rivers are so beautiful. Whether it is some cascade we are portaging around, the mist in the morning or a beautiful sunset, we see spectacular sites. Killarney, with its white rock and deep blue water, it particularly gorgeous in the fall when the colours are changing. We’ve been there when the colours deepen every day. It is glorious.

But these places are all off the beaten path.  It is hard work to paddle and portage to get to see this.  My back aches, my arms are tired. Sometimes I can get pretty grumpy.  But for me its more than worth it.

In the same way, the big achievements in IT projects or in consulting… an NPS of 10 on a difficult project, an external or internal recognition award, IDEA, completing a complex project on-time on budget for a client – these are hard work.  We all want to see the press release or be in the management meeting where a senior executive says “we couldn’t have done it without you.’  but that takes hard work each and every day.

An old friend and colleague of mine, Leslie Kulokas, who retired from IBM always said, “if it was easy, they would have monkeys doing it”.  Clients hire us for their projects because it is difficult.  When you do a great job in a tough situation, sometimes knowing that they couldn’t get it done without you is the only reward.  But just like in the canoe, the payoff is worth it.

One of the reasons a canoe trip is tough is that a canoe doesn’t really move very fast.  Certainly not compared to a motor boat or a car.  When you start out across a large lake or down a long river, it can look like you will never get across to the other side. Conversely, it is easy to look only at your hand on the paddle and your own contribution. Again it can feel insufficient to the task.

  • If you keep staring at the end of the lake, it feels like nothing is changing.
  • But if you look to the sides, you will see the scenery slide by pretty quickly.
  • The view changes constantly if you are close to shore.

And then when you look back at the long view a few minutes later, it seems like you are much closer.

It’s the same in a long project.  If you are constantly looking at the final destination, it might seem like you aren’t making progress. And it is sometimes hard to see how your individual contribution builds to the final goal. But if you have frequent milestones – and you know that those milestones actually lead where you are going – then you can measure your progress more accurately and have a real sense of progress. To me this is one of the biggest benefits of Agile projects – frequent milestones, frequent celebration of success, and an opportunity to both re-energize and re-assess your direction.

Whether it is the end of a portage, or out in the middle of the lake, we take lots of breaks during the day to re-energize. We plan our routes to so that there is time to set up camp, make dinner, clean up and still have time to relax before it gets too dark.

It’s easy to run out of steam when you are pushing hard and it is important to keep hydrated and your sugar levels up.

Similarly, on projects we need to take care of our people.  There is an ebb and flow to every project, and we need to make sure our team is getting the equivalent of a red licorice or a Werther now and then.  Whether it is disconnecting via training, vacation, or a mini break with a team pot-luck or evening event…. we need to make sure the answer isn’t always ‘more right now.’


“If I had seen the video, I wouldn’t have come”- matching your plan to your capabilities – Paddling and Projects (4)

One of the most important conditions for a successful project is matching the ambition of your goals with the capabilities of your team. It’s a lesson that a canoe trip really drives home.

map extract

If you look at the map extract above, it shows a section of Algonquin park that we’ve gone canoeing through several times. The red and black lines represent portages – where you carry your canoe, then go back and carry your pack – across the portage. The distances are marked in metres. With four adults, the minimum is everyone walks the route two times – ½ way with the canoe, ½ way back, then all the way with your pack and any other gear. The second person does the reverse – takes his or her pack all the way, then comes back ½ way and picks up the canoe.

So your ‘friend’ for example, could plan a circular route that started in the lake at the bottom centre of the map (which is Opeongo in Algonquin Park), takes a 2180 metre portage, a short paddle, then a 1330 m portage to Red Rock Lake, camp one night on Redrock, then a 3085m portage parallel to the Crow River another campsite. Then a final 1390m portage to complete the circle back to Opeongo. We’d practically be taking the canoes with us on hiking trip!

Did I mention that the canoes are about 25 kg (55 lbs) and the packs upwards of 35? When we need to rent canoes we pay extra to get the ultra-light 16 kg canoes. And of course, the reason you have to portage is that the river can’t be paddled – it has rapids, waterfalls, or un-passable swamps… that means the portage route has hills to climb, and often bogs to walk through too. (It could be worse – The black lines mean the portage is not well maintained, and usually even tougher.)

This route shown is actually tough but doable for me when it is just four strong adults. That first portage is very flat. But when you have young children, you can’t make them carry the canoe, and perhaps not even all of their gear. So now you’re doing each portage route at least three or four times. That’s why I say a group moves at the speed of its slowest person. The project equivalent of course, is the critical path.

One time, early in my canoeing tenure, my friend Graham planned a route so difficult that another friend said as he was trying to climb up and down yet another hill with his pack ‘you know, if I had seen the video, I wouldn’t have come.’

Similarly, on your project, everyone needs to know what the plan is, everyone needs to buy into the plan, and know where the tough spots are, and whether you have a team that can achieve all the milestones. A bit of stretch is great – it encourages the team to work, to learn and to improve. One of the things I like about a canoe trip is the feeling of stretching my skills and pushing myself to do more. But looking at a plan and thinking ‘no way we can do’ that is demotivating. And unlike a canoe trip, where once you are away from the shore you are pretty much committed, on your project, people who decide “if I had seen the video, I wouldn’t have come” actually do have choices.

Innovators are often mocked before they are copied – Paddling and Projects (3)

Two quick ideas this week continuing my theme of lessons from my experiences in canoeing and how they apply to projects:

  • Innovators are often mocked before they are copied
  • Don’t assume everyone else sees the shoals that you see


Innovators are often mocked before they are copied

When I first started canoeing, one of the other guys on the trip brought a headlamp rather than a regular flashlight. It was the first time any of the group had used one. We all laughed, thought it was goofy, asked him if he was planning a career in coal-mining, and made similar jokes. You might be able guess the kind of things we thought he might need two hands free in the dark for.

The next year, three of the four of us had head-lamps and now I was the odd-man. I remember at one point the rest of the group in the evening all turned their headlights on, then blinded me by all looking me in the eye at the same time! The reality is that cooking, getting into a sleeping bag, fixing your tent or hammock… at night it is all easier if you have a light, and still have your hands free.

Two other big examples from canoeing trips followed similar patterns – someone brought it, we made jokes, then later we all bought in:

  • The middle photo shows a Thermarest chair. A Thermarest is a self-inflating mattress that you sleep on top of. It provides both increased comfort and extra insulation when sleeping. They are mandatory for overnight canoe trips. But there is also an optional kit to turn it into a chair so when you are sitting around the campsite you are much more comfortable than just sitting on a log that happens to be there.
  • The sleeping hammock has replaced the tent. With a tarp over it (not shown), it is just as rainproof as a tent. And you are off the ground, so it is better for your back. You don’t have to worry about finding ‘level ground’, which as far as I can tell is a myth in the wilderness. And a hammock is much lighter than a tent with all the poles and pegs. So, it is a big improvement over the tents that we used to carry.

Be careful it isn’t the same on your project. Don’t discount a new idea because ‘that’s not the way we’ve always done it’. I remember the first time I worked on an agile project which was back in 2003. The objections we got… ‘no pre-set scope’? ‘no commitment except to finish something in a given time?’ … ‘we just add stuff to the backlog indefinitely?’ No way we’re going to agree to that! How would we do scope control? How do you know when you’re done?

And yet, because the results are there, agile is actually better in many situations and more popular than traditional waterfall for IT projects. What’s the next idea that you’re laughing at?

Here’s a quick way to check just how much you or your organization company new ideas. Think about some modern technologies: In 2019 the list includes A.I., Cloud, Blockchain, IOT.  How many are you using? Did your firm start working with at least some of these technologies five years ago, two years ago… or are they on the agenda for a small pilot next year?


Don’t assume everyone else sees the shoals that you see

The picture on the left shows the bottom side of my beautiful new canoe after three canoe trips. All of those white lines you see are the result of us ‘bottoming out’. Hitting a rock – big or small – a submerged stump or log, or just hitting the beach too fast. Sometimes in these parks you can see what we call ‘indicators’ … bits of paint left on a rock in the water where someone else’s canoe has scraped the bottom and left a trail. The person in the bow (front) is supposed to be looking for fast water, rocks or stumps, or the water getting too shallow. So that we can steer around them.

The photo on the right shows 2 friends of mine who thought that they could run up a small rapid… they took on more than they were capable of. The canoe dumped. They claimed that an invisible giant muskie hit the side of the boat!

Just like in consulting, you need to call out risks and shoals ahead. Any project can take some minor issues. My canoe doesn’t leak, and I could keep hitting the same types of rocks for many years without ever needing a repair. But don’t assume the person steering your project sees the same risks you do. Everyone needs to call out what they see and take the right steps to avoid the problem.

The picture of my friends dumping their canoe is a good example of risk mitigation. They tried to climb this rapid with the canoe empty. We had left our packs at camp and were going out to do some fishing. So, they got to try something new in a low risk scenario.

Its all about the team, & having the right person in the right role – Paddling and Projects: Lessons Learned (2)

Its always important to understand the level of expertise on any project and the same is true in canoeing. In my work life I’ve been in leadership roles for more than 20 years, but I am in a quite different role out on a canoe trip.


I’ve been going canoeing with the same core of people for 25 years.  We all met through IT consulting.  On the left is my friend Graham. He is a great big data and analytics thought leader, by the way. But the most important thing is:  he’s been canoeing for 50 years. He actually built his own canoe in high school.  His summer job as a teenager was to work as a summer camp counselor where he was the ‘tripper’ – taking younger kids out on overnight canoe trips. I think he also worked 1 summer as a junior ranger –  then he took 2 years of forestry at university.

On the right is Ken.  Ken was a senior technical sales manager at Oracle for many years. Knows a ton about database and high-performance transaction management. More importantly, he has a bachelor’s degree in freshwater biology – or as he likes to say, a degree in fishing.  He did field studies on the impact of acid rain on the lakes in Killarney Provincial Park and then spent a winter the Hudson Bay Barrens doing other research before switching to IT.  He’s been canoeing longer than Graham.  On top of that, both of them do the majority of the cooking in their families and I consider them to be gourmet cooks.

With that level of skill available, we’re capable of taking on pretty much any trip.  Whether it was high winds and waves out on the lake, a tough portage, or some unexpected bad weather, there is nothing they can’t handle.

On a project, its not necessarily about having that level of expertise.  What is important though, its understanding the capabilities of your team, and planning your trip –  or your project – accordingly.

Similarly, about 6-7 years ago, I realized my son Alex, who is now our most common ‘4th canoeist’, was better at sterning the canoe than I am.  The person in the back (the stern) is the captain, deciding the route across the lake, and steering.


Of course, you want the best person on the best job… so he is in charge our our boat.  But what does that leave me to do?  My friends are experts, my son has surpassed me… But someone needs to paddle in the bow (front).  Around the campsite, the gourmet chefs want to cook. But I can still do the dishes, be the sous-chef peeling carrots, filter the water, gather and cut-up the wood.  And carry my share in my pack and the canoe.

Its about getting the work done the best way, not about taking the most glamorous or fun job for yourself.  When we are packing the bags the start of each day before getting in the canoe, you can tell the people that you want to go canoeing with. They come up to the kitchen area and start taking food, the stove, pots and pans… whatever they can get into their knapsack.

The ones you don’t want to camp with are the ones who wait until you say ‘can anyone carry these final few vegetables that I can’t quite get into my pack’ ? and then it turns out that their pack is ½ empty.

It’s the same on a project.  Always try to do more than asked for. Look for jobs that aren’t being done and do them.   We all want the people on our team who are going to finish their own work, and then keep trying to take on more.

By the way, there are lots of times on a trip when I do cook , or stern the canoe.  You have to keep those skills sharp too just in case.

Expect Wind in your Face and Rain Every day – Paddling and Projects: Lessons Learned (1)

For about 25 years I’ve been a frequent camper and canoer (canoeist?) in the big provincial parks in Ontario. I’ve gone pretty much every year, and many years when my children were little I went twice – once on a family trip and once on a more difficult ‘just guys’ trip. As the kids got older the family and guys trips merged into one. So I’ve done maybe 40-ish trips in all. And most weekends in the summer I am out for at least a short paddle in my canoe at our family cottage in Georgian Bay.

What has struck me over those years is that the lessons from paddling and the lessons of projects are often the same. I recently did a presentation on this topic and over the next few weeks I will share it as a series of blog posts, with each covering one or two ‘Paddling and Projects: Lessons Learned.

When I first started canoeing, I asked the friends that I was joining for some advice. They gave me some suggestions about the specific clothing I should have and the gear that I needed, and then they said

Expect wind in your face and rain every day.”

Not the best way to sell someone on a spending a week on a canoe trip where you need to be outside all the time, is it?

There were really 2 points being made here:

  • First, you need to have the right gear necessary to deal with any situation. You need to be able to layer up and down, to have a great raincoat etc. A similar comment was the need to have ‘wet clothes and dry clothes. No matter what, keep your dry clothes dry.’ The stuff you wear in the canoe might get damp – or soaked – but put it back on the next day rather than risk having nothing dry to wear in the evenings.
  • The second point is about your plan and expectations. If you expect perfection, you are certain to be disappointed. When you plan for problems, you are prepared ahead of time and not scrambling to figure out what to do.

In my experience overseeing big projects, when I review a project either during the initial planning, or if I am taking responsibility for something in mid-stream, one of the first questions I ask is ‘how much effort contingency have you accounted for?’ Almost invariably, the answer is ‘none’. So what we are saying is, we expect to do something we’ve probably never done before and we are going to do it perfectly the first time out. How realistic is that?  How perfectly do we understand this situation?

You might think that this isn’t relevant in Agile projects, But in each iteration, you need to be able to gauge your confidence in how well you understand the backlog items you’re committing to complete. And there are usually business expectations beyond the initial minimum viable product.

So you do need to consider if you have planned enough resource and time to deal with some delays and unexpected challenges in every project.



“I am part of a team that’s building a cathedral.” Why context is king.

In my career, one of the challenges that I’ve been given multiple times is to fix those occasional IT projects that are off the rails. So my job has been to come in, figure out what’s wrong, and guide the project back to success. There are lots of reasons why projects struggle but a lack of common ground or common understanding is one of the most frequent. On one of those projects, as I was getting up to speed, I had a developer say to me “You know, none of us really understand this solution from end-to-end.” As I dug into it, I realized many of the developers who worked on various components had never been exposed to any other component or really understood how the system would be used in the field. Most had never met an ‘actual user’. And unless they were on the UI team, they hadn’t even seen what the interface looked like.

There is old story I probably have told to every team in this situation that goes like this: In the olden days, a woman is riding along on a horse and she sees two men in a quarry, cutting stone. She stops and asks the two men “What are you doing?” The first one looks at her and says “Well, look at us. I am cutting this stone.” (When I tell the story, the dismissive “are you an idiot?” tone is quite clear in the first speaker!) The second one proudly says “I am part of a team that is building a cathedral.”

Then I ask my teams… which one of those people do you trust to do a great job? No one has yet been enough of a wise guy to answer ‘stone mason #1’. And the lesson is – context is critical. The more we understand the bigger picture and the more we see how our role is important in that big picture, the more likely we are to make sure that we meet and exceed our commitments.

And yet most business and certainly most projects don’t spend nearly enough time on context and the big picture. I try to remind my teams of the context in some way in every meeting. Sometimes is why it is “us” that is working on this tough assignment. Or why this project is important to our client. Or our company. In the middle of some problem if someone is complaining about why we have to fix this – isn’t it good enough as is – I talk about the impact of not fixing it – to the end user, to our client’s customer, whoever. When I don’t know the impact – I ask my client to share it so we truly understand.

People want to know their work has real value. Remind them of it even when they don’t ask.

Personalization elevates even the most commodity experience

I had an interesting experience on this week’s trip to Edmonton with my cab ride from the airport. As many people do when I am travelling in a city I don’t know well, I just got into the next taxi from the stand as I came out of the airport without giving it a lot of thought. The driver was unusually chatty (for me, anyways). Particularly late at night, I don’t typically encourage the conversation in the taxi beyond a few pleasantries, but this man was interesting and engaging. He was also “personal enough” – talking about coming to Canada for his son, but not getting into more detail than might be seemly. And he encouraged me to talk about my family. As part of the conversation, I mentioned where my meeting was the next day and he made sure that he pointed it out to me as we went to the hotel.

By the end of the drive he knew that I was returning to the airport the next day and gave me his card so I could call him. So far, a very pleasant ride, but perhaps not terribly unusual.

Then came the clincher – he asked for my number so he could check with me in the morning about my flight time and when I might be heading out. I gave it to him, thinking that he would be busy the next day and that was the end of the story. But around 1130am- which was after I told him my presentation would be over – I got a text asking if I still needed a ride, and my time of departure. Ten minutes before the agreed upon time, a second text came basically saying ‘fyi, I am here, outside the door, in case you want to go early.’

In a world where taxis are competing with Uber and Lyft, this gentlemen is competing on a level of personalization that is pretty unusual in transportation in my experience. Starting from the very first trip! On day two he remembered my name and details of our prior conversation. On the drive back to the airport I asked about how much of his business comes from regulars. This is cab, remember, not a limo service – and after four years about half his business comes from repeats like this. We talked about his management system to keep track of regulars and how he deals with conflicts between casual rides and his regulars. Basically he is willing to risk an hour empty to make sure he meets a commitment to a regular. Even though its a cab he talked about his commitment to keep it feeling clean and tidy. He talked about the importance of reliability – the passengers need to know their ride will be available, and on time. Some clients have got to the point where he gives them a unique texting experience – ie they want to know when he is 20 minutes away for example, or only a text right at the planned departure time.

Every business has a balance between regulars and new or 1-time clients. In a commodity business you would think that the balance would be tilted sharply to the unique or ‘1-time’ customers. But with some pretty simple and effective techniques he is building reputation, brand and value. It would have been just as easy – probably the same number of clicks – for me to get an Uber back to the airport, and probably would have saved a few dollars. But I was getting a known quantity, a reasonable price, and certainty – and an interesting conversation.

I am going back to Edmonton in two weeks. Guess who’s picking me up at the airport?

“Canada? My dream is Canada!”

If I asked you to name the country that comes to mind with the following characteristics:

  • Population about 35 million
  • Big exports include automotive, natural resources, and agricultural products
  • A constitutional monarchy, with a prime minister and 2 level legislature
  • Stretches across the northern end of a continent
  • Geo-politically, if you look at its borders to the North and South, on one side is a harsh, sparsely settled wasteland with a wild beauty, while on the other side is an economic and cultural powerhouse with whom it has a free trade agreement.

Given the title of this blog, you will be forgiven for answering Canada, but in fact, this also describes Morocco, where I’ve spent  four weeks working pro bono with IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC) for AMDIE, the Moroccan government agency responsible for promoting Morocco as a place to invest, and helping Moroccan Exports.

After our team finished updating and validating their IT Vision and strategy I spent a week on vacation in Morocco and Spain with my wife and her sister.  As we were headed north to Chefchouen, a beautiful blue city in the Rif mountains, our driver Youssef discovered our nationality and said “Canada? My dream is Canada!” He then proudly showed us his Canada Goose jacket to demonstrate his sincerity.

Youssef’s  spontaneous praise of Canada got me thinking about the differences and similarities between our countries.  While superficially, trading out the Sahara (in the south) for the Arctic (in the north) and European Union for the USA, they seem quite similar, they are worlds apart. Morocco is working hard to pull itself into the modern world –the main roads are excellent, this past week the King cut the ribbon on a brand new TGV high-speed train that runs from Casablanca to Tangiers. Modern windmills generating electricity are seen on mountain tops. AMDIE is actively promoting the key benefits of Morocco – stability, proximity to markets, tolerance, increasingly educated workforce.

But in a reasonably large Moroccan city like Chefchouen, at least some people are still using the public fountains for basic water. And we saw women washing the family clothes in rivers many times as we drove through the country. About ½ of people under 35 are unemployed.  While those kind of things still happen in pockets in Canada, it is pretty rare.  In Canada, we hear about these types of issues in some small northern communities (mostly First Nations or Inuit), and it is seen as a tragedy that needs to be fixed, not as the ‘normal’ way of life.

I was surprised to hear the Morocco share’s Canada’s interest in diversity.  Despite Morocco being 98% Muslim and about the same percentage being ethnically similar, many Moroccans talked to us about the importance of encouraging diversity in all dimensions.  One of my favourite things about Canada is our openness to others and tolerance of other people’s ways.  Like most things that people claim represent their countries ideals, you can find many ways we fail at this.  But of the 4 “Canadians” on our 15 person CSC team – one was an American who married a Canadian, 1 was from France, who also married a Canadian, the third was an immigrant from China.  Only 1 (me) was born Canadian. What’s remarkable about this is that it is pretty unremarkable in Canada.  Generation after generation came to our country, and by and large, brought the best parts of their country and heritage, while leaving whatever divisions and animosity they had behind.

I have many fond memories of friends I made in Morocco and the experiences I had there. It is such a privilege to be able to experience living in other cultures and having a chance to contribute in a small way to their country’s growth. I look forward to visiting again and seeing some of the places I missed this time. But like our driver Youssef, my dream is Canada.