a peek inside the fishbowl

08 Mar, 2016


Posted by andrea tomkins in: Publishing/writing/career stuff

I have a ton of stuff to share with you but I want to get one recent thing out of my head and onto the page before it flies out of my brain forever.

The most recent issue of the Kitchissippi Times is a special International Women’s Day issue. It’d been in the works for awhile so the topic has been in my head for some time now. Thanks to our great contributors, we profiled some local women who are doing some really interesting and inspiring things in our community. I am really proud of this issue and I hope it resonates with readers.

The next issue of KT will feature a story about how residents and community health centres have come together to help new refugees. This is actually what has been filling my head today, on International Women’s Day.

The photo shoot for the story took place yesterday morning. I was with the photographer, Ellen Bond. We were hoping to take a photo of a family at a health clinic at a local hotel. The weather wasn’t great, and it was early. The trouble with a walk-in clinic is that you don’t exactly know who is going to show up. I was expecting issues around consent as well. Basically, the whole situation was a little too loosey-goosey for my liking and to be honest, for awhile I wasn’t sure if we were going to get the shot. It was slow going at first. The staff were busy with work and also looking for someone we could photograph. While we were waiting I saw a little girl in the hallway with someone who might be her father. She disappeared somewhere – perhaps to be with the rest of her family. I motioned to the father. “Your daughter is pretty,” I said, smiling while pointing to my own big smile. I made a shape with my hands, moving my finger as if I was pressing a shutter button on a camera.

“Can we take a picture?” He nodded. He made a motion with his hands, that indicated the height of a child.

“Seven,” he said. “Seven.”

I nodded without fully understanding. Did he mean he had a seven-year-old? He motioned again with his hands, but this time it was as if he was wrapping his arms around the trunk of a tree. I nodded and then he disappeared. I didn’t know if he would be back but within a few minutes I was surrounded by people. As it turned out, he is a father with seven children: six daughters and one son. The mother was at the clinic with dental-related issues. The translator returned and I told him that she didn’t need to be in the photo if she was in too much pain.

I was told the son was in their hotel room. The sisters, who were between the ages of about 3 and 11, glanced at me shyly as they hovered around in the hallway. I tried to meet their eyes with a smile. They smiled back. There was a lot of smiling. We were now waiting for the photographer to finish taking photos of a different family that was checking into the clinic: a mother, father, and a baby in a stroller.

I beckoned to one of the girls. She was 7 or 8 years old. She looked at me and I raised my hands, palms facing out, and brought them together gently and apart again. (The sign for “Patty Cake” in case you’re wondering.) She nodded her head shyly. She understood what I wanted to do, so we did some easy handclapping, starting slow and getting faster. Faster, I’d say, Faster! I was hoping the translator would catch on to what we were doing and chime in with the Arabic version of the word, but I know they understood. This, after all, is the international language of play.

Each girl took a turn playing with me. Their sweet little smiles almost broke my heart in smithereens. In fact, I may not ever recover.

Thank you so much Ellen, for taking the time to capture a moment that passed so quickly yet I will always remember:

International language of play


1 Response to "Seven."

1 | Peter

March 8th, 2016 at 9:19 pm


That was lovely. Thanks.

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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