Dr Irina at the garbage pickers' village

At an elementary school just outside Jakarta, ten-year-old Rahman wraps thin strips of construction paper into spirals to help make greeting cards.

This isn't an arts and crafts class. This card will sell for about 70 cents. His school, Sekolah Kami, meaning "Our School" relies on sales of it, as well as soap and recycled paper to defray its operating costs. Rahman and his family are garbage pickers. He's one of 150 students getting basic education skills here and hope of avoiding life as a scavenger. 

Getting lost in translation

With a burst of confidence I recounted for my host mother in eastern Quebec what a friend and I had got up to the night before. It was early in the summer of 1990 and I was on a publicly funded six-week French emersion program that probably no longer exists.

"Hier soir nous avons mangé poutine," I explained, expecting kudos for correctly categorising "to eat" as an avoir verb and for tackling the gruesome local concoction of fries, curd and gravy. But had I mispronounced poutine and changed its meaning.

Mel eases his tow truck driver

Mel eases his tow truck driver closer to my moribund Hyundai rental car, assessing its plight with the help of his headlights.

It's the wee hours of Saturday morning on a rough bit of fire trail beside a now abandoned city dump. A full moon on a still, cloudless night had inspired me to hike to a favourite lookout in the Blue Mountains. Maybe it was the the virile sense of accomplishment of a two and half hour hike but driving back I dared to forge straight through the small lake I had cautiously skirted on the way in. Three days after flooding in this part of Australia made headline news, my front bumper was jammed into the upper ridge of a watery trench, my tires helplessly spinning and squealing like panicked pigs.