A Complicated kindness

In one month, everything will change.

It’s April of your first year in university, and stressed out doesn’t even begin to describe it. You have three exams coming up, and though you already took these courses in high school—most of your credits didn’t transfer—you’re afraid that the questions will be full of cultural references that you won’t understand.

Escalators, for instance. Earlier this morning, you met with the landlord of the apartment where you’ll be living this summer. Since he suggested meeting on the second floor of the overpowering, glitzy mall, you had to prepare yourself for the inevitable encounter with the staircase that moves. You’ve come a long way since you rode your first escalator last September. And to think, after just eight months in Canada, you’ll soon be living on your own.

Everything was set for your move—until the landlord mentioned that your rental agreement was lacking a guarantor’s signature. “One of your parents can do it,” he advised. “Or someone who has known you for a long time.”

There’s a lump in your throat and you’re ready to run away, at least back to your residence room at U of T. A guarantor’s signature? You wouldn’t need one if you were living in Trinity again next year. But with your finances coming from OSAP and a work-study position, paying $17,000 for rent and tuition is hardly an option.

At least in residence people would know it’s not so easy for you to communicate with your parents. Your family and friends are back home where you grew up, where you left less than a year ago: a crowded refugee camp in Somalia.

Since 1989, U of T has participated in the Student Refugee Program of the World University Service of Canada. The aim of WUSC is to settle promising students from war-torn countries into universities across Canada to further their educational opportunities. This year, four St. George colleges and both satellite campuses are taking part, bringing in students from refugee camps in Malawi, Somalia, and Thailand.

For their first year in Canada, the program provides everything for WUSC participants. Tuition fees are waived, and a room in residence and full meal plan are provided, along with a work-study position at the college registrar’s office. Depending on the college, there’s some extra money available for textbooks, winter clothing, and other necessities. U of T does everything it can to help these newcomers to Canada—that is, until their first year of university draws to a close.

“That’s when things can get really hard,” admits Kevin Philipupillai, the 2007-2008 WUSC coordinator for Victoria College. “There’s already been a lot of cultural adjustment, but it’s still hard to be on your own.” And in second year, the students are truly on their own. After just eight months in a foreign country, it’s up to the participants to figure out their own living arrangements and employment. Though WUSC students often keep their job at the registrar’s office, that’s only if there’s a position open for the following year’s participant.

The abrupt transition from full financial support to complete independence would be challenging for any student, but even more so for a refugee with only one year of university under his or her belt. Interestingly, this isn’t the case at all institutions. Philipupillai notes that at the University of Victoria, students have full financial support for all four years of the program. Since U Vic brings in three new WUSC students every year, there are always 12 students assisted directly by the university.

By comparison, U of T’s WUSC funding is considerably lacking. “The amount allotted to each student depends largely on the sponsoring college,” explains University College coordinator Julia Cusimano. But even at colleges in a comfortable financial position, such as UC and Vic, a large proportion of the funds comes from a college-wide student levy—not something that’s easy to increase.

“The problem is that if [one college] sets a precedent on levies, all of the others will be pressured into doing the same, and we’re not all in the same financial situation,” notes Cusimano. “And when changes in levies are put to a vote, for a lot of people, it’s just seen as even more increased fees.” There is little publicity for WUSC on campus, and during levy increases, students may not know that they’re voting to change the life of a refugee. But why is this the funding model at U of T, which has the largest overall university endowment in Canada by over a billion dollars? At U Vic, which has the 16th-largest endowment, they sponsor double the number of students that we do. Is this truly the best U of T can do?

For WUSC students, the stress associated with becoming financially independent rivals only that of transitioning to life outside of the residence. The difficulty is in the details: not only must they find a suitable place to live in Canada’s most expensive city, but they’re also charged with learning how to use grocery stores, public transportation, and modern home conveniences—challenges not necessarily faced living in residence. While the refugees are expected to quickly adjust to life on their own, WUSC co-ordinators simply aren’t prepped on how to facilitate this progression.

As Chris Somerville, WUSC coordinator at Innis College for 2004-2006 recounts, the only formal training he received concerned the refugee’s initial arrival to Canada. This preparation mainly comprised of bureaucratic matters, such as setting up a Canadian bank account for the WUSC participant, and helping them enroll in courses. This leaves WUSC volunteers largely playing the process by ear. While co-ordinators meet with WUSC students on a regular basis during their first year, once April passes, the attention shifts to next year’s student. There’s no guarantee that the outgoing WUSC student will have any personal support during their next three years or more at U of T.

One way to improve the counseling aspect of the WUSC program, suggests Somerville, would be to stabilize the structure of student volunteer involvement. “At Innis,” he recalls, “the WUSC committee was run by the vice-president of the Innis College Student Society, the vice-president of the Residence Council, and the WUSC co-ordinator. So two of the people already have positions in university administration, and quite considerable ones.” Even at Victoria College, where a larger committee is set up to assist the WUSC student, Philipupillai noted a huge drop in student interest once fall midterms rolled around. Many WUSC co-ordinators are involved in the program for only one year before moving on to other pursuits. While both Vic and UC employ Student Life co-ordinators, nobody is exclusively dedicated to the continuity of the WUSC program from one year to the next.

Implementing a better organized, more reliable staffing system requires more financial investment from U of T. But Philipupillai sees an additional benefit from increased program funding: “What I’ve heard from several former WUSC students is that, yeah, it’s tough here, but if you could give this opportunity to more people to come over, regardless of how difficult it is, it’s a real hope that people there [in refugee camps] could have.”

The students participating in WUSC have an earnest desire to learn. With increased funding and a better support structure, U of T could feasibly accommodate a greater number of refugees. Until then, the least we can do is give upper year students more support. Transition to independence is hard for everyone. We may not relate to some of the refugee’s life experiences, but all of us—university administration included—can offer our empathy.

What would an Afghan War memorial look like?

Canada’s wars are fought, for the most part, by the very young. There’s truth to the adage that you can fight for this country before you can legally drink here. On Remembrance Day, as we do every year, the U of T community will gather at Soldiers’ Tower to remember the human cost of war. The names inscribed on that tower form a comprehensive list of those connected to this school who have lost their lives in international conflicts since the First World War, which the memorial was originally raised to commemorate. So many of those lives were cut off far too young.

But what does Soldiers’ Tower tell us about our current relation to conflict? We know that no war is without its controversies and public debate. In an effort to come to terms with our own, the Varsity Magazine wanted to know: what would a hypothetical Afghan War Memorial look like?

In mid-October we put out an open call through the Bachelor of Arts Architecture Student Society for proposals on how our university should memorialize Canada’s involvement in the current war in Afghanistan. The aim of this project was to stimulate fresh debate about a war now seven years old, openly discussing how this war compares to those that have engaged Canada in the past.

We left it open to student architects where to place the memorial and what it should represent, so long as it reflected the cost of the current war in Afghanistan. Here are two proposals we received.

The ideal memorial is completely free of honourary plaques, engraved stone, and kitschy bronze statues are no better than the plaster busts of Elvis from Honest Ed’s. The ideal memorial is not a morose site that people flock to and fill with flower wreaths for one day a year, then leave barren. A memorial, like architecture, should be experienced by individuals physically and be located in an area with high circulation, inhabited daily, providing people with a reflective space conducive to the remembrance of things past.

My memorial, “Regarding the Pain of Others”, is greatly influenced by land art and the lesion-like marks bombs leave on land. It addresses and expresses the loss incurred by the war in Afghanistan, mimicing bombed land by using craters or voids as its central motif. I chose to work with voids because they symbolize both emptiness and loss, two themes appropriate for a memorial. I translated the form of the craters into biomorphic-shaped pools, and fit these into the Queens Park Crescent site at College Street and University Avenue, next to Norman Foster’s Leslie L. Dan Pharmacy Building. The biomorphic shape of the memorial pools works with the site’s existing biomorphic shapes, as to not disrupt one’s experience of the site. Each pool is lined with black or darkly coloured clinker bricks, partially filled with water to create a peaceful, reflective surface. I have chosen to line the inside of each pool with clinker bricks due to their already distorted and irregular form, which references the dilapidated houses and rubble-like state of architecture in areas subject to aerial bombing. The memorial does not impede circulation, as it creates a series of secondary paths in-between its pools.

In relation to other St. George campus memorials, “Regarding the Pain of Others” is most similar to the Soldiers’ Tower War Memorial near University College, as it provides the opportunity to reflect on the past while experiencing it in an architectural manner.

Explanation of the illustration:

My illustration is of the memorial site plan and the evolution of the memorial itself. What begins conceptually as voids and craters on the far right are translated into biomorphic pools. Those pools are placed into the site chosen for the memorial, next to the Pharmacy Leslie Dan Building.

STEVEN ISCHKIN is a second-year Architectural Design and Art History major.

While searching for an image or article that would best describe the conflict and devastation in Afghanistan, I came across a photo of a solider interacting with an Afghan child. It is from this pair that we can find the true meaning behind the war, which is not simply to stop terrorism and the eradication of al-Qaeda terrorist groups and governments, but to ensure a future world where extremist religious actions that foster destruction and misery are a thing of the past.

The memorial’s title, “Guardians For A Better World,” reflects the soldiers who have fallen in conflict, having taken on the role of guardians. The image of the outreached hand gives a sense of security and guidance, while the forward motion of the soldier acknowledges the path and duty each had honourably taken. The names of the fallen are inscribed on the sides of the monument on an inclined stone base, cut from Khogini or Awbazak Marble (seen here in the illustration). Both are stones found in Afghanistan. The base is inclined for easy reading and placement of flowers or wreaths. Lapis lazuli acts as a formal trim around the base, separating the foot of the base and the names. Lapis Lazuli is also a stone from Afghanistan, and is used for its decorative appeal. The top of the base is to be composed of a very rough cut, resembling dirt and stone road textures, recalling the path taken by soldiers.

The figures themselves are comprised of a bronze, which facilitates their fabrication. The monument has been kept simplistic to create a sense of humbleness, while also using materials that have a connection for many Afghan-Canadians. Because of the poppy controversy during the war, I have decided to not inscribe the top edge of the base with poppies, as I had originally intended. While the poppy may symbolize war veterans and soldiers, due to the crackdown of opium plantations in Afghanistan, I felt this feature might stir up mixed feelings.

The location chosen for the monument is to the east of the Leslie Dan Pharmacy Building. This site has open spaces, dense foot traffic, and is close to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and University Avenue, a street with many historic monuments. If located deep within the St. George campus, the memorial would be concealed by its surroundings. A more open and public site will allow all to see and remember. The location and monument also counter-balance the Ontario Fire Fighters Memorial found on the opposite side of University Avenue, in which a fire fighter is also holding a child. These monuments together create a sense of symmetry for Queen’s Park when one looks north towards the Legislative Assembly. I kept the Afghanistan War memorial small in size due to its location. It will not obstruct the view of the Leslie Dan Pharmacy Building, but compliment it.

Like many other Canadians, I am truly grateful for the sacrifices so many soldiers and families have made to insure our safety and well-being. Hopefully many others will share my intentions and meanings.

DANIEL MADUREIRA is completing his final year of undergrad in Architecture and Portuguese.

The Individual Soldier

“Bang, bang, Canada!”

It was as sweltering hot as it always is in Afghanistan. Sweltering hot, dusty, and extremely uncomfortable under a layer of Kevlar. Three months into a tour of duty, complacency starts to set in. As I drove my jeep through the bustling, overcrowded, traffic-congested market of downtown Kabul, I tried to keep my eyes open, but found my mind wandering. I thought about home, and family and milk that wasn’t irradiated and stuffed into tetra-paks for six months. Black is all I remember—it’s as if the whole world suddenly went into slow motion. My life didn’t flash before my eyes, but the sight of a barrel pointed directly at my left eyeball looked to me like a giant yawning chasm ready to swallow me whole.

I can’t remember telling my hand to reach for my pistol, but I could already feel the familiar caress of the cold steel grip in my palm, my thumb instinctively breaking the catch on my shoulder holster. Incoherent nothing spilled out of my mouth. If I died here at least my co-driver might have time to react. It was too close, there was no way I could draw my pistol in time. My legs were already coiled, launching me out of the vehicle towards my assailant—who was nothing more than a young boy holding a toy gun. I was hanging halfway out the side of the jeep as he turned and ran to hide behind a laughing friend. He was just a child looking to play cops and robbers. I still haven’t figured out which one he thought I was.

I slid back into my seat and closed the clasp on my holster. From the passenger seat, my friend points to the gear selector and says, “You stalled it, Jason.” Heart still in my throat, I try my best to look cool and carry on with our patrol. Brave little guy, I think to myself.

It seems like war used to be an absolute business. It was Us versus Them in the World Wars. Even Vietnam had a shadowy, Communist antagonist that some portion of the American population could rally against. The wars fought today in this new age of terrorism aren’t as clearly defined.

It’s easy to discuss war using concrete sums like body counts and dollar figures, less so to talk about soldiers coming back with post-traumatic stress disorder or serious injuries. All we get are gloomy snippets of gossip, spoken in hushed tones, about so-and-so who couldn’t readjust after coming back from Afghanistan.

In this pile of data—treated by the media as entertainment more than cold, uncomfortable fact—the most important number of all is ignored: one. Why don’t we talk about the individual soldier? What is the human cost of this war that some of us have so much stake in?

Across the board, news outlets have done a poor job of relaying what it’s like to be a soldier. Only when Rick Mercer or a group of retired hockey players visit the troops do we seem to get a sense of the men and women on the ground in Afghanistan. Even then, the look is a superficial one at best and cannot speak to the depth of the experience.

Sadly, it feels as if Don Cherry on Hockey Night In Canada is the best source for an understanding of the individual soldier—he’s the only talking head humanizing what feels like a distant, endless war. Cherry seems like the only person on TV who cares when a soldier dies, compared to the standard news anchor relaying the facts deadpan with no further explanation: age, regiment, hometown, “You were a hero and Canada thanks you.”

My close friend Jason was a soldier. He was part of the first rotation of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. When “roto zero” deployed, there was much uncertainty about the mission and the risks involved. As a member of the armored corps, it was his job to thread his Bison tank through the taxis and pedestrians clogging the streets of Kabul. While he was only gone for six months—a far cry from the 12 to 16-month rotations of some American soldiers in Iraq—it was still a stressful time. I had never paid such close attention to the news, reading and re-reading every dispatch regarding the war. Jason came back to us in one piece, albeit with some new grey hairs. He had some close calls.

Traffic again—typical in the Kabul market area. I sit, looking alert, trying not to let my mind wander again. My partner in the passenger seat is a rookie with no common sense. I catch him looking at a commotion on my side of the vehicle and snap at him to pay attention to his own area of responsibility should someone use the distraction to attack us. A soldier had been killed with a zip gun in this zone just a week before. My partner looks back. “Is that yours?” he asks, pointing to a plastic bag lying next to his foot. It definitely wasn’t there when we started our patrol. Inside are a dozen hand grenades. Duds. Probably dug up from some little old lady’s garden.

If the risks are so great, why did he go to Afghanistan? His answer was unexpectedly straightforward.

I went to Afghanistan because I truly believed I could make a difference. I stood by and watched comrades give their lives for a mission that they believed in. Afghanistan is a country full of people who need help, and if we’re not there to fight, the bad guys will pick on those who have no way of defending themselves. If we just walk away from this mission, the ones who will suffer are the Afghan people. The Afghanis want to be free, but have no way of achieving that against an enemy who will kill anyone who doesn’t fit into their ideology.

It was an unwelcome bout of déjà vu when Thomas, a friend of mine from high school, deployed to Afghanistan a few months ago. At his going-away party, I wondered about his reasons for engaging in the war.

I decided to go because I wanted to put my training to good use, and it seemed like an exciting challenge to go to another part of the world. It’s been a huge eye-opener seeing all the things we take for granted back home, like daily showers, air-conditioned houses, even a change of clothes. Most of the locals wear the same man jammies pretty well all their lives.

Jason described Afghanistan as a hot, unforgiving country. In his words, “Everything gets filled with sand and everything smells really bad.” Decades of instability, a booming drug trade that no one seems able (or willing) to control, and a government seen as anemic and unable to establish democracy have made it a difficult part of the world to live in. Nonetheless, Thomas says that many of the locals are appreciative of the work our soldiers are doing.

To be honest, it’s a bit of a shock being there, not just with the higher altitude and extreme heat, but seeing the local people. I’ve been working Entry Control Point 3 at Kandahar Airfield, which is where all the locals come in when they’re working on the base. They do a lot of the clean-up jobs and even some of the construction.

Some of these people have been around since the Russians invaded, so they’ve gone through some rough times, but they still manage to plod on one day at a time. The average worker makes only a few dollars a day, but it can go quite a ways to keep them and their family fed. We employ a fair amount as interpreters; they tend to make more money but they’re also trusted with more responsibility. I know of a handful of them that have more than one job. One of the interpreters is actually a practicing doctor who uses his pay from us to fund his hospital.

On a recent overcast weekday morning, I witnessed what at first appeared to be an accident on a Highway 401 overpass in Whitby. A fire truck was parked on the curb, with lights flickering and sirens silent. I then noticed about a dozen people holding Canadian flags, standing close to the railings facing east. They were awaiting the body of a Canadian soldier killed in action, being transported along the Highway of Heroes from Trenton to Toronto.

I had a similar feeling then as I did a couple years ago when I saw a friend of mine from grade school on the front page of the Toronto Star. He was sitting on the bumper of a vehicle in Afghanistan with two other soldiers. The look on their faces was one of pure sorrow—just before the picture was snapped, they had learned that some fellow soldiers had been killed.

From everything I’ve seen and heard, things are getting a lot better there for them. They have schools to send their children to, cleaner water to drink, and for the most part, places to earn some money. They are very much willing to work, and whenever there are tussles in the lines into the base they sort themselves out quickly to avoid being held up. The majority understand English. They don’t speak it very well, but it’s not hard to get a message across. Locals have approached us several times to report caches of rockets or IEDs. A lot of them are willing to help us help them.

Some activists talk about the war in blanket terms, painting our soldiers as child-murderers and villains. They don’t agree with the mission and refuse to support our troops. It is easy to draw lines in the sand and say their point of view is unpatriotic, but this probably isn’t the case. Can we really say this is a “just war?” Are we doing more harm than good? Should we be pressuring our government to pull our troops out of harm’s way? None of this matters as much as the person on the ground.

Why don’t we talk about the human cost?

The Varsity Magazine Presents: The Cost of Living

Table of Contents

  • Habitat: Convocation Hall with Head Usher Rachel
  • In Season
  • U of T’s Electrical Grid
  • Features

  • The invisible 40 per cent – If you’re a student who takes care of a parent, a sibling, a grandparent, or your kids, you’re not alone – U of T just treats you that way
  • This ain’t your dad’s recession… yet? – Three students get the recession talk from their parents. Dads have good advice!
  • In transit – Read this while hiking it up to the north pole. A long look at our lives as commuters
  • If that place goes, the whole block goes with it – Workers at the Korex soap factory have been striking since June. Why hasn’t anyone noticed?
  • Is the SPP Dead? – If that place goes, the whole block goes with it – Noticed an awful lot of policy “harmonization” with the U.S. lately? If the ultra-secretive security and prosperity partnership were a conspiracy theory, it wouldn’t be this scary
  • A Complicated kindness – U of T sponsors refugee students for their first year, but they’re on their own after that
  • Remembrance Day Supplement

  • What would an Afghan War memorial look like?
  • The Individual Soldier
  • Culture Wars
  • Editorial Address

    When the Great Ice Storm froze eastern Canada to a standstill in 1998, I was in Grade 7. My dad and I woke up early one morning in Toronto, and drove up to our cottage near Parry Sound, loading the SUV with pretty much anything you might need if facing an ice storm. We then drove to where the majority of my parents’ family trees live, in the belt between Kingston and Ottawa. It was a fun and surreal experience. I learned a valuable lesson about how the times you grow up in affect you for the rest of your life.

    My dad’s parents lived in what was once their summer cottage. They had absolutely no electricity when we reached them. When we got there, we unloaded our supplies, including a generator that my dad and his brother-in-law set up for my grandparents to use.

    If you’ve ever had to use a power generator, you’re very cognizant of just how much electricity a house uses. You can’t run everything at the same time. You have to make choices, tradeoffs. An argument quickly ensued at my grandparents’ house. My dad and uncle thought it was important to have things like heating. My grandparents were very sure they needed to run the freezer. During an ice storm.

    As far as my grandparents were concerned, the matter was perfectly clear. You’re allowed to freeze alone in the dark, but you do not let food go bad under any circumstances. This is was what being young during the Depression taught them.

    In this year’s Massey Lectures, Margaret Atwood spoke on the subject of debt, how our views on the subject have changed, and where they’ve remained constant. Atwood reminds us that aside from what we owe to the bank, everything we think we own we’ve actually borrowed from the planet. Andrea Yeoman’s map of campus electricity use is an important first step in examining what we’re borrowing.

    In her lectures, Atwood recounted her parents’ attitude towards money. Given the Maclean’s cover story a couple weeks ago on the joys of frugality, it seems we’ve come full circle. More and more, I find I have questions for my grandparents, were they still around, about their experience of the Great Depression and how it influenced their life choices. I wonder how living during the current world financial instability will influence our own. Kelli Korducki has compiled three unique perspectives on this subject: students interviewing their parents on how they made it through the last time around.

    Our finances are to some extent the fruits of our own choices. But the cost of living in this country are also determined by the machinations of a small group of elites. If you’re a Canadian or an American under 20 years of age, you’ve lived your entire life under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or the FTA that preceded it.

    Those agreements have shaped our lives. There are secretive talks in the works about an add-on to that agreement, called the Security and Prosperity Partnership. Alex Molotkow sets out to find out what the SPP could mean, and is already meaning, for you.

    Nominally, this issue is about the cost of living. Unintentionally, it’s become an issue about families

    There’s another theme running throughout these stories: U of T is a commuter school.

    What we don’t talk about often enough is how this commute permeates every aspect of our lives. Shoshana Wasser’s story of how difficult student refugees find the move out of residence tells us that being a commuter is really a different way of life.

    Jane Bao’s piece on the cost of commuting details some extremely long rides to school, but the frustrations of those travels are ones we all know. They’re opportunity costs—school, work, money, family, friends—all traded in the strange currency of the GO Train schedule.

    Those who worry about a super-lefty nanny state are missing the point when it comes to funding public housing, transportation, and family care. Cutbacks curtail personal freedom and the ability of the individual to rise above their circumstances. As one student caregiver asks in Allison Martell’s story, “How much of my life do I have to put on hold?” Student caregivers are some of the best multi-taskers U of T’s got. Why is the city, the province, and—because of U of T’s national prominence—the country, losing it’s most important resource in transit?

    We often hear that those who fought in the World Wars were fighting for our way of life. For Remembrance Day we examine the human, emotional, and cultural costs of war. Whatever your opinions about wars past and present, we must consider what it is we ask soldiers to put their lives on the line for. Remembering is important—it’s our debt for living.

    Culture Wars

    Professor Jens Hanssen’s office is a cramped room on the third floor of U of T’s Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations. Stacked bookshelves line three walls, forming a library in a variety of languages, but mostly English and Arabic. A few titles stand out: The Economy of Cities, Problems of Everyday Life, and Transforming Loss into Beauty. These three books represent a cause close to Hanssen’s heart, the preservation of Iraqi cultural institutions in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion.

    Hanssen was part of a group of Middle East Studies professors who traveled to Baghdad in June 2003, just weeks after the end of the “shock and awe” bombing campaign by Coalition forces.

    The group, known as the Iraqi Observatory, produced a 30-page report on their fact-finding mission, describing the conditions of the city’s libraries, archives, and universities, and recommending what must be done to save Iraq’s cultural history from destruction.

    “The decision [to go] was made even before the invasion,” he says. “We anticipated that the universities were going to suffer. I was watching like everyone else, with tears in my eyes as Baghdad went up in flames. I just had to go.”

    Hanssen downplays the obvious risks involved.

    “This was before the UN headquarters were bombed. It was even before critics could imagine how horribly wrong the US occupation would go. In hindsight, it was perhaps the only window that was safe.”

    Upon his arrival, Hanssen found a city torn apart by the bombing campaign, and a society degenerating into chaos and civil disobedience.

    “At the border, there were no visas or passport controls. The way we got through was [my colleague] Keith Watenpaugh, the only American, would ask these young kids, the soldiers, ‘Where are you from?’ They would say mainly southern states, Texas or Arkansas, and Keith would say, ‘Oh, I have a cousin there.’ And that was our carnet de passage.”

    “The Americans were just not in any position to guard the border at the most basic level. That’s to be blamed for the insurgency coming across the borders.”

    Over the course of this nine-day fact-finding mission, Hanssen documented what he saw with a handheld video camera. Upon his return, the footage was edited down to two 10-minute videos entitled The Destruction of Baghdad’s Cultural Heritage.

    The videos, which Hanssen has made available for public viewing on YouTube, provide a unique perspective of post-war Baghdad—one that’s impossible to find on the evening news.

    While the Western media focuses on the monumental tasks of installing an autonomous government and ultimately, the withdrawal of Coalition troops, Hanssen’s work highlights the challenges faced once the bombings subside—the reconstruction of Iraqi culture.

    He begins at the Iraqi National Library and Archive, burned and heavily looted in the chaos that followed the Coalition invasion. In his video, the salvaged books are piled six feet high, without any attention paid to classification.

    An official from the Iraqi Academy of Sciences suggests that the looting was perpetrated by specialists who sought the most priceless volumes for sale on the black market.

    Looking back, Hanssen disagrees. “To be honest, for textual and archival stuff there’s not a great market. I don’t think it was market-driven. But many of the libraries that we visited had very valuable editions, and we still haven’t really got a sense of what went missing. There are other people, Iraqis, who are [working that out].”

    Dr. Saad Eskander is one of those people. Named the director of the INLA in 2004, Eskander took on the task of restoring the library’s collection, even if it meant conspiring to steal back thousands of volumes.

    The subject of features in the Washington Post, The Guardian, and GQ, Eskander has become the face of the movement to rebuild Iraq and preserve its cultural heritage. He’s also put his life at risk in doing so, as the INLA has become a primary target of insurgents who aim to disrupt Iraq’s reconstruction.

    Hanssen is sympathetic to the struggle of Eskander and his colleagues.

    “We tried to get a sense of not just the destruction, but also the sense of powerlessness on the part of these librarians,” he says. “It’s natural that [they] should blame dark forces, how else to comprehend this cultural looting that wasn’t in anybody’s interest? And that it would be done by Iraqis themselves…”

    Politics play a role in every aspect of Iraq’s reconstruction, especially with the Hawza, a secretive group of non-state officials who form a volunteer security force at the INLA.

    “The Hawza is the religious college of Shiites. We asked ourselves, ‘Why would these well-organized, well-drilled young men come in and cart books into their mosque in Sadr City?’”

    Hanssen believes they acted with political interests in mind.

    “These guys were extremely loyal and organized. They probably wouldn’t have done the looting, they were genuine. But it wasn’t necessarily out of a greater sense of the historical and cultural value of these books. To guard these books was a bargaining chip—the Hawza can present itself as a guardian of Iraq’s heritage. Groups were forming in anticipation of some future Iraqi state.”

    The building of such a state would include a strengthening of not only libraries and archives, but academic institutions as well. Hanssen recalls the strong sense of community he perceived at Baghdad University and Iraqi Academy of Sciences in 2003.

    “It was a period where everybody was pretty hopeful. Anxious, but hopeful. Most people, even the thousands who held Ba’ath membership, were genuinely happy that Saddam’s regime was gone. You had men and women sitting on benches, laughing, socializing. It didn’t feel any different from other campuses in the middle of the summer.”

    Hanssen conducted his report during the period between the fall of the Ba’athist regime and the rise of the violent insurgency that threw Iraq into turmoil.

    “Our report was critical, but if we’d written it three months later, we would have been far more critical. We were so optimistic. We made these recommendations thinking it would only be a matter of time before we can start rebuilding. We couldn’t foresee just how bad things were going to go. Since we spoke to these professors, some of them have been killed, others went into exile.”

    The principal recommendation of the Iraqi Observatory’s report was to integrate Iraqi universities into the international community of higher education. In the five years since Hanssen’s trip, many initiatives have been proposed, including a plan to build a state of the art American campus in northern Iraq.

    Given the strength of the insurgency, Hanssen believes current prospects are grim.

    “These are isolated [ideas]. To build a parallel, Americanized higher education system I don’t think will work. When Obama withdraws, should he withdraw, any treaties and contracts might be null and void. Even if there are all the right intentions, people are hedging their bets. The [Iraqi government]—I don’t think it stands on firm ground. The future will tell us.”

    In Season

    1 THE ART GALLERY OF ONTARIO opens its Frank Gehry-designed doors free to the public November 14 to 16. With a 50 per cent increase in viewing space, and Canadian contemporary showings from Seth, Shary Boyle, and Tim Lee, we’re so excited we might just stop studying for eight seconds.

    2 They say Bloor and Ossington is the new Queen and Ossington. Notorious party promoter Trevor Coleman (Circa) is set to prove it with THIS IS EXPLODING! MULTI-ACTIVE FUN!, a DJ dance party featuring U of T alum ANIMAL MONSTER (stuffed likeness pictured here) with “Conversations With Smart People” for a scant five bucks. Set at Ethiopian restaurant Habesha Club (875 Bloor St. W.). There goes the neighbourhood.

    3 Quash your Halloween blues with Toronto writer Derek McCormack’s THE SHOW THAT SMELLS (ECW Press), a macabre carnival kitch-o-thon that tells dead baby jokes like no other. Perfect streetcar material, if you can keep your jaw from dropping at McCormack’s ephemeral prose.

    4 DIABLOS MUFFINS are the grab bag of campus baked goods. You think it’s blueberry until all of a sudden there’s a chocolaty Nutella centre and a cream cheese filling. And what’s more, the Mohawked barista gave you accurate change this time! Way to keep us on our toes, guys.

    5 We all have our Harry Potter fantasies, it’s just that studying in THE EMMANUEL COLLEGE LIBRARY allows us to live them. With its immense chandeliers, creaky bookshelves, and sneering librarians, you’ll be muttering the imperius curse in no time—even if it’s just to your jerky Policy TA.

    6 There might be more to life than indie rock, but after listening to Chris Berube’s radio show ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, we don’t really care. Airing each Friday from noon to 2 p.m. on CIUT 89.5 FM, this U of T undergrad has managed to score interviews with the genre’s hottest debuts, including Of Montreal, Girl Talk, and Lykke Li. Download the podcast at podcast.thecatseye.ca.

    7 Just in time for winter slush piles, get a free tune-up from the fine folks at BIKE CHAIN, U of T’s on-site bicycle repair centre. Bike Chain is located in the basement of the International Student Centre (33 St. George St.), and offers free instruction on how to repair your 10-speed.

    8 When it comes to traversing a wintertime campus, you’re going to need waterproof boots. May we suggest these TRETORN WELLIES, available for $79 at Get Outside (437 Queen W.)? With fur lining and an array of shiny metallics, you’ll avoid the post-lecture soaker.

    9 Screening The Godfather, Shoot The Piano Player, and Apocalypse Now this month, THE BLOOR CINEMA is a great way to catch your classics on the big screen for cheaper than a rental. Sweet talk a Varsity staffer and we’ll get you in for free. Check out bloorcinema.com for a full schedule.

    U of T’s Electrical Grid

    From 1990 to 2005, St. George campus underwent major changes. Its population grew by 13 per cent while gaining 23 per cent more floor space. Over this time, electricity usage also increased, by 29.3 per cent. While a portion of this increase can be attributed to the inherent demands of supporting more people and space, it is also due to the amount of electricity-demanding technology used on campus. While computers and other devices now permeate nearly every building on campus, this wasn’t the case in 1990.

    Prior to 1995, off-site suppliers provided St. George campus with all of its electricity. Today, Toronto Hydro and Ontario Power Generation provide only 75 per cent of campus electricity. The other 25 per cent is generated on campus, using an eight-megawatt gas turbine. Installed in 1995, this co-generational turbine creates energy at the central steam plant via natural gas combustion.

    St. George campus’s supply is by no means unlimited. In many areas, the infrastructure that distributes this power is working at full capacity, and needs to be replaced. This complicates renovation in buildings that use excessive amounts of power from the St. George distribution system. Substantial modifications will be needed for renovations incorporating large research equipment, especially in the southeast area of campus. Research will need to be cut back or moved to another location to avoid brown-out situations. Already in some buildings experiments with large electricity needs can only be run outside of peak hours.

    The Wallberg Building is the number-one priority when it comes to energy insurance. Loop 1 of the campus’s 4,160-volt system currently feeds electricity to the building. Any changes made to the electrical system would need to include the Pratt building, Engineering Annex, and Electrometallurgy buildings, as they are sub-fed from the Wallberg building. Loop 1 is further strained by providing power to the Mechanical Engineering, Rosebrugh, and Fitzgerald buildings, as well as the Sigmund Samuel Library and the Canadiana Gallery. Should one part of the loop fail, the other sections wouldn’t be able to handle the increase in power, leaving many buildings in the dark.

    Habitat: Convocation Hall with Head Usher Rachel

    If he’s in a good mood, facility co-ordinator Bruce Anderson will talk about the secret agents who stake out Convocation Hall. No, really.

    One lesser-known point of interest regarding U of T’s foremost rotunda is that undercover operatives regularly snoop around the premises during high-profile events. (Excluding commencement, unless you know something we don’t). Even Margaret Atwood, who became Canada’s secondary head of state when she forced Stephen Harper to retreat from his war on art, didn’t rate one Mountie. On the other hand, Al Gore, who became America’s secondary head of state when he was actually elected in ’92 and ’96, brought a battalion of security to the dome last year.

    “CSIS, the FBI, MI6…we’ve had all sorts of security in here,” Anderson recalls.

    MI6? I imagine Britain’s secret intelligence service, which has somehow

    maintained its cosmopolitan air of Cold-War romance, operating in my old sociology classroom.

    Anderson oversees the ushers of Con Hall—the irregular, constantly changing event crew that guards the entrances, points you to your seat, and generally blends into the background—though not quite as impeccably as the suit-and-ear-radio crowd. Any student can sign on to usher an event, getting a free seat and payment in cash. Another point of international intrigue: Con Hall is one of the few places foreign students can legally work without a green card.

    The most senior usher, Rachel, has been working events in Con Hall for six years, ever since she was an undergrad. Hoping she could shed some light on what MI6 gets up to on their visits, I ask what it would take to get black-bagged and dragged off.

    “Get in the way,” she laughs, before offering assurance that the national security types are ordinary people who mostly make sure no one blocks a politician’s path. No doubt they’ve already gotten to her.

    Next time you’re in Con Hall, if you’re not on the lookout for men whose bowties are actually cameras, try and spot the handiwork of the ushers’ arch-villains: engineers. Con Hall is a bull’s eye for the manic, purpled, cannon-monkeys whose undergraduate attempts to annoy civilization give way, ironically, to careers spent building sturdy trusses and keeping city sidewalks well-surveyed. According to Anderson, they usually go for windows—the higher the better. Well-equipped applied scientists bent on ludicrously dangerous break-ins have been known to scale the building’s exterior wall or even, in one case of Batman-like ingenuity, “walk directly up” the protruding brickwork.

    Great minds, no doubt.