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Bookends: Growing up in Canada and around the World January 17, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, personal, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Growing up in Canada and around the World

By Dan Davidson

April 19, 2016

– 844 words –

 

The Water Here Is Never Blue: Intrigue And Lies From An Uncommon Childhoodthe-water-here

By Shelagh Plunkett
Viking

304 pages

$29.70

e-book: $14.99

 

When I tell Shelagh Plunkett that she was a bit of a naughty girl in that hotel room in Jakarta at the tender age of 15, she casts her mind back and agrees with me. It was a rebellion that would be quite at odds with the life the adult woman has since carved out for herself in Montreal, but it was perhaps understandable given what had happened in her life up to that point.

In the 1970s this young girl, her sister, and her brother, were whisked off to Guyana by their parents, to a nation where her father, who was ostensibly an engineer, was supposed to helping to map and catalogue water and mineral resources for the local government.

The kids were enrolled in a religious run day school and eventually became quite acclimatized to the country. This portion of the book is narrated in a style which partakes of the local patois to a great extent. It has a flavour of steel drums and Guyanese music.

At the time she never suspected her father of doing anything nefarious, but as she grew older, she came to wonder more and more what he was really up to in all the trouble spots of the world. He was in the Mekong Delta in 1972, Afghanistan in 1974, in Uganda just after Idi Admin was deposed. When he died, in 1993, a friend of his named Russ Fraser lit a fuse of curiosity that had been waiting to ignite for some time.

“He said that wherever my father went, coups seemed to follow, that if Dad went to a country, you could bet there’d be an uprising of some sort soon after. Maybe Pat was a spy?”

Pat Plunkett didn’t take them with him to every job, but really quite disrupted the family’s lives with the moves he did make. It was not a normal Canadian childhood.

They were in Guyana (right the new government began nationalizing foreign owned companies) long enough to feel at home there and when another assignment took him elsewhere, they returned to Vancouver.

There, Shelagh, at least, found she did not fit in. She had odd habits and expectations which the “it girls” which she calls “the Debbies” did not appreciate. She picked up some teen rebellion habits like coming to class slightly drunk and using four letter words to tell off her teachers, who suggested she needed psychotherapy. All this by the time she was finishing grade 9.

Then it was off to Indonesia, which was actually quite a dangerous place to be at the time, what with the government troops slaughtering East Timorese, and the potential dangers that might just creep up on two cute white, blond teenage girls (the brother being off at university by then) in a land where local people followed them around like a parade and wanted to touch them to see if they were real.

They were home schooled, spent a lot of time at their house, which was sort of a compound with a garden their mother created (because she really wasn’t allowed to do much else). It was home to a number of exotic animals, including a monkey.

The language used to describe their lives in Timor is quite different from that used to describe Guyana and the narrative there is edged with a potential for danger that didn’t seem to be in the earlier part of the book. Perhaps this is because the girls were older and more aware. Perhaps it is because they were more isolated from the local people than they had been in South America.

Coming back to Canada was even harder for Shelagh this time. She had missed so many of the cultural changes. Perhaps this contributed, when she grew up, to a life in which she did a lot of travelling. She has worked on research projects and written articles about places all over the world.

The last section of the book is her personal exploration of that part of India where her father died, taking with him all the secrets that she never got to uncover. She and her partner travelled to Shimla, in the Indian mountains, and stayed at Hotel Dreamland, where her father had stayed. She walked the path she believed he had been walking when his spine collapsed and he began his final journey to a strange and unknown land. She came no closer to unraveling his mystery than she ever had and concludes, “ Whatever else you want to know, you’ll have to find yourself, somewhere. Perhaps it’s out there, Maybe not.”

Shelagh Plunkett is an award-winning writer and journalist. She has been published in various Canadian and U.S. journals, including The Walrus, enRoute Magazine, Geist, The Globe and Mail, and the Vancouver Sun. Plunkett currently lives in Montreal and was recently a writer-in-residence in Berton House.

 

-30-

 

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