A few weeks ago I went camping in a town called Gualeguaychu, about 3 hours from Buenos Aires.
The camp site was interesting, as it had a bar, grocery store, and movie theater. In the end, it was more like squatting in a very noisy park than anything else. But the group that I was with was fun, and we were about 30 all together.
The point of going was to see the annual carnival, which is a scaled down version of Rio de Janeiro's. The costumes were pretty, but it was a bit repetitive, with a few dancers coming through the center of a stadium, then a colorful float, and repeat. It went on for about four hours, but I had had enough after one.
Perhaps one of the most memorable parts of the trip was seeing how poor the town was compared to Buenos Aires. It's sad, since parts of the country never recovered from the economic crisis a few years ago. The roads are run down, there are stray dogs on many street corners, and there really isn't much to do at all outside of the Carnival. I was walking around downtown with a few other people from the group (from Ireland, Romania, and Norway) yet we couldn't even find a pub. We had to go for drinks in a pizzeria.
Back in Buenos Aires I've had quite a few job interviews over the last few weeks, and am now working part time for four schools, though my classes don't start until Monday. The hiring season for teachers here is the opposite of Canada, as both coincide with the end of their respective summers.
I read an article on the website of the C.B.C. recently that talked about a man who was denied jobs for the federal government because he could not pass security clearance. The reason was that he had spent several years in China, a country that does not exchange information freely with Canada, thus preventing them from verifying his background during those years.
There is of course a very good chance that this could be very relevant to me, as I've been wandering around quite a bit these last few years. I started looking around on various government websites, until I finally found the department which is responsible for issuing security clearance. It's none other than the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, our very own equivalent of the C.I.A. Unfortunately, their website didn't list any email addresses, only regular, long-distance telephone numbers. Apparently emails are too risky, but phone lines are completely secure.
I called the national headquarters in Ottawa, and was surprised by someone answering with a simple 'Hello?'. No automated menu, no 'Thank you for calling the C.S.I.S., how may I direct your call?', just a surly sounding lady on the other end, sounding generally annoyed.
After I confirmed that this was indeed Canada's main intelligence agency, I politely explained my situation, that I was worried about being black listed by the Federal Government for living in another, unfriendly nation. I'm not too worried about Argentina, but if I ever end up teaching in the United Arab Emirates, for instance, I may have some problems. So I asked for a list of countries to be avoided. Her response was that she didn't think such a list existed.
So, I asked the obvious question... How is it fair to discriminate against people who have lived in certain countries if you don't tell them which countries to avoid going to before hand? She answered that the best way was just to go where I want, and when I come back to Canada, to apply for a federal job. If I get rejected, I'll know that I should have avoided one of the countries that I went to.
That last bit is absolutely true. This was her advice.
I honestly had no idea how to respond. She represents the agency which is responsible for keeping one of the wealthiest countries in the world safe from foreign threats.
I (and the rest of the country) can only hope that no one else in the agency is so completely out of it, or our country would be in a lot of trouble. Until recently we didn't have many enemies, but now there are actually people out there who would be quite thrilled to attack us, mostly because of our military presence in Afghanistan.
After my trying to explain the sheer idiocy of what she said, in terms varying from fairly to not so polite, she told me, in a very condescending way, that she was very busy, and was going to hang up. I yelled a bit more, asking if I was really wrong to want to know which countries to avoid, but eventually gave up when it became clear that it was about as useful as yelling at a brick wall.
After that rather mind boggling experience, I switched gears and decided to call one of the regional offices in Halifax. This receptionist was very polite, and transfered me to someone who apparently knew a bit more about the subject. He didn't give me much more information, but at least sounded like he wanted to help. He sounded a bit nervous. In the end, it seems that if you spend a significant amount of time outside of first world countries, you are likely to have problems getting certain jobs with the government. The good news is that less than five percent of such jobs require high security clearance. Still, it was clear that he was afraid of saying too much. I don't know why general information on the subject would be so sensitive. The Canadian government is routinely ranked one of the most transparent in the world. Granted, we have fallen a few places in the last two years, but it's disturbing that citizens are kept in the dark about something that could directly effect them later on.
Kosovo recently declared its independence. This was really a very difficult situation. The state was stuck in statutory limbo, mostly because of the way that the international community handled things during the conflict of 1999. Every nation with a separatist movement was quite disturbed by a region being able to proclaim independence without prior consent by either the U.N or the country it is breaking away from. China and Russia in particular see deep domestic parallels here. What Serbia did in Kosovo several years ago is what China may do in Taiwan, Tibet or Xinjiang, and what Russia is doing in Chechnya. Even Spain has raised deep objections about the situation.
It really makes Canada's policy towards Quebec shine. There aren't many things that I can say I'm exceptionally proud of in Canada (I'm not very patriotic in general), but this is certainly one. Canada has shown the world that when a population is unhappy being part of a country, the country shouldn't have the right to hold them prisoner. The fact that we've offered not one, but two referendums on the separatist's terms, and will possibly have a third in the future, is absolutely astounding to many people of the world.
I'd like to close by bringing up the huge pink elephant in the corner that the media has thus far managed to completely ignore - the similarities between Kosovo and Palestine.
Both are Muslim, although Palestine is of a _much_ more conservative brand. Both have minorities that practice (or for Kosovo, practiced) terrorism on innocent people, though Palestinians like to blow themselves up while they're at it. Kosovars did more of a hit and run approach. Both were brutally oppressed by the ethnic majority of the ruling nation after they were provoked by said violent minorities. About the only differences are that, for reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, the West has consistently sided with Israel, but against Serbia. Kosovo has always been part of Serbia (which doesn't mean that it shouldn't have the right to separate if it chooses), yet Palestine was conquered by Israel a bit over 40 years ago. What the Serbs did in Kosovo was completely wrong, as was what they did in Bosnia and Croatia, but they had never attacked Western interests outside of their own borders. So why the double standard? As far as I can see, both wars are completely horrible, and should never have happened in the first place. Yet other countries insist on taking sides, and the techniques that they have used have only made the situations more complicated.
Terrorism should be condemned on all sides. Any time innocent people are killed, the perpetrators should be tried. The K.L.A. (Kosovo's version of Hamas) never was. Many of the Serbs were rightfully prosecuted for their roles in the conflict.
If we want peace in the region, we have to start acting as mediators, and not taking sides. Be it in Kosovo or Palestine. In the end, it's in everyone's best interest.