In A Pickle  

Children need support

Casting off the dunce cap

I hung my head in shame as they sneered and snickered while I shuffled past them, headed down the hallway to the dummy classroom.

It felt like the death march for my morale. At the tender age of 10, I was completely devastated.

That memory was laying in wait when I clicked on a documentary called Subnormal, A British Scandal, produced by the BBC in 2021. The program resurrected some ghosts, reminding me of my childhood nightmare of an education.

Although I wasn’t a victim of racism, like the ones featured in the film, I was a casualty of the same type of learning system; having parallel experiences with what the mostly black children suffered in England. We hailed from different continents but came from the bleak era of the 1960s and 1970s.

They labeled those children as being educationally subnormal. Nothing could’ve been further from the truth, as the immigration process had traumatized the kids. When their parents went to England, they left the little ones behind. They worked hard to earn enough money to send for their sons and daughters. By the time the children arrived, the families were strangers. The youngsters had to cope with being uprooted and sent to a foreign land.

Life emotionally scarred me too, and it was getting worse. My peers and I sat around making paper dolls and cardboard houses. The instructor did not teach regular schoolwork, reading, writing, and arithmetic. The powers that be believed we were too simple to do much in life, and a standard education was a waste. The best-case scenario was for me to be a hairdresser and the boys to learn a trade, or become labourers if that was too challenging.

My mother went to bat for me when they wanted to ship me off to a “special” school in Calgary. She saw how dejected I was. Back to regular school for me, but not before serious damage was done.

Sadly, I lived up to their low expectations, and a few of us turned it into a competition to see who could get the lowest marks.

I’d been drowning in the classroom for several years, with no teacher to throw me a life preserver. My brain had frozen over and I couldn’t answer the simplest questions, or perform meagre tasks. I became the joke of the school, “Duh, duh, Doreeeeen,” the other children taunted. Snapping out of my stupor, I responded with a left hook.

When I reached my early teens, I realized I shouldn’t behave that way, as the boys had become stronger than me. No longer being able to cope, I turned to alcohol and cigarettes, as I couldn’t stand the skin I lived in. Life went downhill from there.

Hope springs eternal, however, and thus was my case.

Years later, a friend recommended I enrol at university for a semester. I excelled in the psychology courses I took as a mature student and soon went to college and participated in an IQ test.

It was a gut punch when the psychologist diagnosed me with a low score. He gave me a poor prognosis for my education and career goals. I’d recently left an abusive marriage and was in shock. I did not know the repercussions of trauma until I went to a workshop decades later, where the experts explained how it affected learning.

A child cannot learn if they are in a hyper vigilant state, just trying to survive each day as it comes.

Apparently there are many people with anger management problems that don’t realize their temper outbursts are from anxiety, according to Jody Whiteley, who has a blog called Hope and Giggles.

Whiteley thinks there are five F's as a trauma response—fight, flight, freeze, feed and fornicate.

Whereas the first three are self explanatory, the last two, feed and fornicate, aren’t obvious.

When our Neolithic ancestors had to hunt and gather, they sometimes went hungry. Therefore it was a good idea to gorge oneself when there was plenty of food. Likewise, it was beneficial to mate. Sometimes they'd kill to get the privilege of passing on their genes. Having sex was the best way to ensure survival.

The amygdala part of the brain still activates our survival impulses today. However, it may leave a person bewildered and ashamed afterwards.

“Remember, you are in charge now.” said Whiteley. “Sit, stand and walk like a confident person. It sends a message to yourself (that) you've got this. It takes time and patience to retrain an anxiety response. Think of yourself as a loving parent to yourself.”

I hope the education system has learned to love children enough to drop the labels and work through the children's pain while casting off the proverbial dunce cap.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Trucker steps in to save stabbing victim

Stepping in to help

Justin McDonald watched in horror as a man pummelled a petite woman only one-third his size alongside West Kelowna highway.

The truck driver had a bird's-eye view from his cab and didn’t think twice about helping her. He slammed on the brakes of his truck and parked in the middle of the highway. With a winch bar in hand, he charged after the pair. It was Dec. 2, 2021, around three p.m.

He told me this story some nine-months later but for him, it was as vivid as if it happened yesterday.

The woman, McDonald explained, begged for mercy as her assailant dragged her by her hair down the sidewalk, and angrily kept whaling on her.

McDonald stepped around the side of the truck and said he bellowed at the man to stop hitting her or he’d clobber him on the head and wouldn’t stop until he quit moving. The two men went toe to toe when McDonald suddenly realized the abuser had a six-inch filet knife in his blood-covered hand.

When the trucker saw the woman bleeding out of the many holes in her shirt, he panicked. The perpetrator fled, jumped into a pickup truck and drove over a traffic sign as he sped away.

McDonald said he yelled for someone to call 911 as he tried to stop the bleeding with some balled up fresh paper towel he’d grabbed from his semi. The injured woman held the blood-soaked bundle to her abdomen and told him how some bystanders laughed and pointed but wouldn’t intervene. That was later verified by street surveillance footage.

An elderly couple appeared from nowhere and handed McDonald their cell phone to call for help. He spoke to the operator, but feared the culprit would come back and finish them all off. So he returned the phone and put on his headset to talk to the emergency dispatcher. He then stood guard with a baseball bat grip on his trusty metal rod.

Just as the police arrived, McDonald spotted the same pickup as it screeched to a halt at a nearby house. He hollered to the officers they needed to go arrest the guy and pointed in the suspect's direction.

Meanwhile, he moved his 18-wheeler off to the side of the road as it was blocking traffic. He remained until the ambulance took the woman away to hospital and told the authorities he had to deliver his load in Penticton but would go to the station later and give a statement.

As promised, he returned and gave a video recorded account of the incident. He also found out the stabbing victim was going to survive, thanks to his intervention. Somehow, it seemed the blade missed her vital organs.

McDonald said he was a mess and went for a drive later in his personal vehicle and the police stopped him. He recounted what he’d just been through and they were sympathetic. One of them put his arm around McDonald’s shoulders and told him he’d seen a lot of gruesome things in his career and was in therapy over it. Victim Services would be beneficial, the officer suggested.

However, Justin discovered victim services weren’t that useful, so he turned to TikTok and Face book for comfort instead. He met a fellow trucker and other strangers online from around the globe who consoled and supported him in the tough weeks ahead.

The victim and her mother thanked McDonald through the RCMP for saving her life.

He is an unsung hero who, in-spite-of his fear, confronted an armed and dangerous would-be murderer. He deserves a medal of bravery and proper support.

Trauma educator Emillie Macas, featured recently on The Global Morning Show, Vancouver says trauma polarization can be dangerous for those who cannot afford professional care. “Trauma dumping” occurs when social media is used to generate sympathy and backing. She says people are crying for help and 211 is the number to find free resources. Crisis Services Canada is available 24/7/365. Call 1-833-456-4566, or Text 'Start' to 45645.

Regarding the callous spectators, I think it’s terrifying to realize the human brain doesn't differentiate between fantasy and reality, and we become desensitized by watching shows featuring violent crimes and homicide.

That could explain why the amused onlookers did nothing but cheer on the offender.

We aren’t much different from those in ancient Roman times, when Christians were thrown into the ring with half- starved lions for the entertainment of a jeering crowd in the coliseum.

How close are we as a society to becoming like those barbaric ancient peoples?

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

The harsh impact of homelessness

Looking for a place to live

“This is all I have left to my name. Please don’t move it. I’ll be back soon to pick it up. Bless you and thanks so much” the homeless woman penned beautifully on a poster stuck inside her shopping cart.

She meticulously decorated and organized her buggy and tucked it around the corner from the church entrance.

It grieved me to see that as I snapped the picture but I was glad the congregation honoured her wishes. As promised, she returned for it the next day. I can only imagine the horrors she faces daily, especially at night out in the elements where she would likely be mugged and raped by ruthless scoundrels. Perhaps she will end up being trafficked, I mused sadly. The streets aren’t safe for pets, let alone humans.

I wondered how she ended up destitute, with a few meagre possessions.

Many people are only one pay cheque away from being in that appalling situation. It's out of their control—not by choice or being lazy. People can also become displaced due to war, mental illness or a tyrannical government.

Homelessness is nothing new in Kelowna. What is now Waterfront Park was once a tent city in the late 1800s. The men living there were romantically dubbed “footloose bachelors with a carefree lifestyle.” The fellows bathed in the lake. In the winter and built shacks to reside in on empty lots, according to The Kelowna Story, an Okanagan History, by Sharron J. Simpson.

Allegedly, a young German girl, aged 10, died from living in one such hovel because the air quality was putrid.

Personally, I've stayed in a women’s shelter in Alberta twice and know the feeling of not having a home. The first time was when I fled with my three young children and five dollars to my name. It was 1988 and although it worked out—we got a place to live in after escaping my abusive marriage—the housing was shoddy.

It was awful to reside in several ghetto neighbourhoods and I continued to fear for our safety. My first apartment was broken into repeatedly but nothing was stolen or disturbed. Therefore, the police concluded I had an enemy who was messing with me. The adversary wasn’t my ex though and it perplexed me initially but I figured out later who the likely suspects were. But there was no way to prove it, so I moved my family to a different scummy rental.

History repeated itself a decade later when I found myself in yet another predicament and I leased an old Victorian-style home built in 1911. I called it the “crack house,” as that was what it was with prior renters.

There were mice in the walls that scratched around at night and cockroaches scurried for cover in the basement when I turned on the light to do laundry. The slumlord told me to get a cat when I complained about the infestation. I replied, “My daughter is allergic to cats, so nice try.”

I reported the place and moved out after the same child caught pneumonia from living there. She was dangerously close to ending up like the German girl.

Having lived in abject poverty myself, I have empathy for the plight of the homeless and those living in squalor. It’s a frustrating kick in the pants when I am powerless to assist those in need.

The residents of one place I know of are afraid to report the deplorable conditions to the authorities for fears of ending up on the streets if they do.

It is a conundrum, as all the government agencies responsible for housing complaints can’t support me in my fight for them unless I find a tenant willing to come forward. My emails to consumer watchdog organizations/media go ignored.

While dealing with management, I get a song and dance about how the frail elderly tenants must buy and install their own A/C, for example. They make up lame excuses for the other problems with the building. They are working on it but nothing substantial gets done.

The occupants can barely afford their low-income housing as is, and it’s a stretch to put food on the table. They endure black mold, a rotten roof and mice in the walls, filthy hallway floors and broken toilets. Some flush with a bucket of water each time. The stench of urine assails their lungs with every breath as they walk through the place. They live worse than most animals.

I would love some suggestions on how to get help for these vulnerable persons, whose voices are stifled.

The aged occupants are damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and so am I.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


A Good Samaritan steps forward

Stopping to help

A squirming body lying face down in the ditch caught my eye.

I was travelling down a busy road in the countryside. While I turned around, I quickly prayed for protection, then pulled over 15 meters away. I didn’t know what I’d encounter, perhaps a lunatic brandishing a knife. Therefore, I wanted to keep some distance between us.

The traffic whipped past as I nervously walked towards the mysterious figure. It was odd because I couldn’t tell the person's age or sex as they were covered up with a hoodie over their head. Nor did I know if there were injuries.

In order to be heard over the blasted roadway noise, I hollered, “Hey, are you OK? Do you need help?”

A head popped up from the grass and as she pulled her hood down, she faced me and said, “Yes, please.”

I told her my first name and asked hers, to which she replied, “I am Toni.”

The young teenager wore unisex clothing and had short cropped hair, but as she threw on her girlish backpack, I realized she was just a kid.

Relief washed over me. I wasn’t dealing with some sketchy looking character; otherwise I’d have booked it and called 911. Nonetheless, I remained cautious, as anyone can be dangerous if they’re desperate enough.

I asked where her parents were and why she was out there all alone. She replied her boyfriend dumped her off in Rutland and some “older” guy in his late 30s picked her up and took her to some kind of storage facility. It was there he allegedly raped her for two days straight.

When the perpetrator finally fell asleep, Toni (she said her name was) untied herself and took off running. She ran a couple of kilometres before deciding to lie down to rest, and it wasn’t long after that I showed up.

Toni rubbed her wrists and said they hurt from being bound. She must have been in shock, emotionally numbed in order to cope, which explained her matter-of-fact tone. Her calmness helped me remain composed.

After she told me what happened, I said, “We’d better get you to the police station”. I asked if a relative could take her there so she’d have an advocate, but Toni replied she was a foster child. Her foster parents would have reported her AWOL.

On the short drive, Toni told me of her tragic childhood and how she lost her brother a few years ago to a fentanyl-laced marijuana joint. He was her protector until then. Now she was on her own.

Upon arriving at the police station, I told the front desk clerk what Toni had relayed to me and that I found her lying face down in a ditch. Once the administrator looked up the girl’s full name and birth date on the computer, she told her to wait a minute for an officer to speak with her.

I stayed with Toni briefly and offered my contact information to the police officer before leaving. The officer said that it wouldn’t be necessary, as she scrutinized my face. With that, I turned one last time to face the child and wished her good luck. Good luck seemed to me to be an odd choice of words, but what else does one say?

From my experience as an adult, it is an awful thing to come forward and be re-traumatized by re-telling of the crime, never mind a juvenile who’s alone in the world.

Toni however seemed resilient, and I hope she’ll get through the next few years OK until adulthood. Hopefully she’ll make a better life for herself without being at the mercy of the system.

I am thankful I stopped and brought her straightaway to the police instead of someone else, who might have had nefarious intentions, or being caught again in the clutches of the same guy. We'd have been sitting ducks had Toni and I waited there for help to arrive.

The situation reminded me of Psalm 10:9 (Contemporary English Version): They are hungry lions hiding in the bushes, hoping to catch some helpless passerby. They trap the poor in nets and drag them away.

It made me shudder. That thought was replaced with the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, where some religious leaders passed by a badly injured man lying in the ditch, but a Samarian stopped to help.

Being a Good Samaritan is not without its dangers, but I’m haunted by the faces of those I didn’t stop for out of fear and because I assumed someone else would.

If Toni was my granddaughter, wouldn’t I want someone to stop and help her?

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Doreen Zyderveld-Hagel writes about the humour in every-day life, and gets much of her inspiration from the late Erma Bombeck’s writing style. 

Doreen also has a serious side, shares her views on current events, human-interest stories and sometimes the downright bizarre. 

She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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