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The Sunday Letter

The Sunday Letter

The Sunday Letter | 2016.07.10

This week I did something small that was really important. I sat down with my Opa and recorded about an hour of him telling me about our family history. How he left Holland to join the Canadian military band after World War II, how he met my Nana, and how they started a family in Nova Scotia.

I think we often underestimate the importance of our family legacies. Because we’re in a digital age and everything is recorded, we figure it’s all sitting there, if we ever want to access it.

The truth is, some of the most important documents of our lives can be inaccessible when it matters. Disorganized = lost. In the case of my Opa, although all the family members have heard most of his stories, how many could re-tell it the way he did?

It was easy enough. I just set up my iPhone on a Gorillapod with a Rode smartLav and started asking questions.

We only took an hour (I’m sure I could have stayed for six, but I was on a tight schedule) and it’s something I’ll treasure for ages to come. So much so that I’m already thinking when I can go back and get more. Ask more questions. About anything. So many of our histories are still oral.

Captured within the hour was a few really good laughs too. It’s sad and hard to think about, but someday I think it’ll really mean a lot to me that I can go back and listen to that laugh when it may no longer be around.


Also, Pokemon Go was released in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand on July 6, meaning situations like the one above are becoming more plausible!

I’ve already seen photos from around the world of people congregating around ‘lures’, an item in the game that draws more Pokémon to pokéstops, which are often local businesses and landmarks. Some businesses have already started capitalizing on it.

Book of the week

Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” is a list-maker. Meaning it’s on a lot of people’s must-read lists and one of the best-selling books in history.

The 25th Anniversary Edition book design is pretty beautiful, I have to say. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

The 25th Anniversary Edition book design is pretty beautiful, I have to say. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Originally published in 1988, the tale of Andalusian shepherd Santiago leaving home to search for his ‘personal legend’ abroad only to find it was at home all along is not an unfamiliar narrative, but it’s Coelho’s poetic verse that makes The Alchemist so long-lived.

Coelho is poetic but not inaccessible. I love how he uses simple words and phrases to lift his story, like the alchemists, turning lead to gold. I read this book in Jr. High, but couldn’t remember much of it, so it was nice to re-visit the book and give it another go.

Embedded in The Alchemist is a lot of societal critique.

Because of that, you might be tempted to critique The Alchemist itself, saying things like:

  1. “The few women in the book are underdeveloped at best. At worst, they exist only to enhance men’s lives”; or,
  2. “Santiago was only able to go on his journey because his father gave him money to leave in the first place! Santiago’s not independent! He’s just a spoiled middle-class kid!”; or,
  3. “Coelho’s philosophy is selfish and self-centered!”, etc.

And you would be right. There are a thousand ways you can pick this book apart, and because it presents itself as this high-minded philosophical lesson on life, it naturally opens itself up to debate. Some people love The Alchemist. Some hate it.

The thing is, I think that misses the point. I don’t read the Alchemist to learn how to live my life. I don’t expect it to understand and reflect all reality. I read it because it’s a beautiful book of a boy with a beautiful, human story.

Doing too much analysis of this novel is like trying to make a concrete cast of a daisy. It’s ephemeral, it’s delicate, and it should be enjoyed for what it is.

Take what is helpful and leave the rest behind.

Take breaks between paragraphs to let your mind wander.

When reading about Santiago’s quest to find his life’s purpose, it’s impossible not to stop and think about yours as well.

Even if you don’t agree with all the religious and philosophical musings that occur in the book, its core message is listen to your heart and pay attention to the people and world around you. And I think those are pretty good tips.

At the beach with friends. Thanks Lisa for being my model! Hopefully these shots can convince your parents to visit Nova Scotia. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

At the beach with friends. Thanks Lisa for being my model! Hopefully these shots can convince your parents to visit Nova Scotia. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Good on the Internet

Turning rejections into wins. Fake animal facts all over Los Angeles zoo. The wizard of rice cooking. I’d love to be in this limo. First world realism. This guy explains perfectly why I love Cowboy Bebop so much. How “Pride” was chosen as the word for LGBTQ rights. These eye-bending statues.

Roxane Gay writes about Alton Sterling and When Black Lives Stopped Mattering, Kara Brown wonders “Am I Going to Write About Murdered black People Forever?” and StoryCorps show a beautiful video about a traffic stop gone wrong.

We could all have FM radio on our smartphones. Geeking out over Marc Maron interviewing Terry Gross in 2015. Then geeking out over this 2015 Terry Gross NYT piece again. Wishing someone would send me a mysterious package (but maybe after the Canada Post strike gets figured out). Posh political satire that’s no stretch to believe by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Who just became a mom! Congrats!). Big software is the new big pharma.

And a bunch of great coffee Instagram accounts to end on a light note. It’s rainy and grey here, so maybe that’s why I also wrote about coffee this week.

And Trout! Did I intentionally match my bath mats to my cat’s eyes? Maybe. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

And Trout! Did I intentionally match my bath mats to my cat’s eyes? Maybe. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Wisdom of the Week

“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.” — Paulo Coelho, from The Alchemist, 1988.

This shot I took in rural Bosnian near where I met some shepherds. It seemed appropriate for a quote from The Alchemist. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

This shot I took in rural Bosnian near where I met some shepherds. It seemed appropriate for a quote from The Alchemist. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

That’s it for me! Time to go make dinner and wish this rain would stop. This weekend was a two-day rest between modules in my Masters program, but it was just chilly and rained constantly, completely destroying my will to go in the ocean. Life, she is cruel.

Let me know what’s on your mind this week in the comments.

The Sunday Letter

The Sunday Letter | 2016.07.03

This week we looked really good. First there was the touching New York Times article on how Canadian families are getting in line to sponsor Syrian refugees. Then there was the adorable reception from Canadian Parliament in Ottawa for President Obama, then Friday was Canada Day, where we turned 149 as a country (next year’s the big 150!). In the global popularity contest, Canada is creating a good impression for itself.


Here’s to more multicultural three-way handshakes in our government’s future.

Book of the week

This week I read “When Breath Becomes Air,” by Paul Kalanithi.

This is the autobiography of a neurosurgeon who discovers in his last year of residency that he has lung cancer that will kill him. This causes him to suddenly reconsider his life, a life that has largely been built on investing for a future that will now never come.

Get ready to cry. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Get ready to cry. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

I bought this on a rainy summer Tuesday, expecting to pick it up and pick through it during the week. When I got home I picked it up and started reading on a whim. Three hours later, I had finished it. I only stopped once, in between Part I and Part II to make a salad for lunch and text my friend that I was in the process of having my heart shattered.

Here’s the January 2014 op-ed piece he wrote in the New York Times after his diagnosis that spurred the writing of this book.

Sadly, he did not live to see it published.

You may not think a neurosurgeon would be able to write such human and heartwarming prose, but Paul was a lover of literature all his life and a bit of a philosopher king. This shows in his writing. His wife’s epilogue about Paul’s final days alive also destroyed me. I was just balling on the couch.

After I finished reading it, I went for a walk and bought a brownie and ice cream to bring me out of the sad state I was in. Much like the patients in psychogenic comas he describes in the book, I was a bit of a zombie afterward.

Was I failing his moral quandary of what it means to be alive as I shovelled chilly vanilla ice cream and warm brownie into my mouth?

Maybe yes, maybe no. But if no then I quickly forgave myself, becauseif one thing is certain, it’s that when compared to regret, time is better spent eating ice cream.

Classic Nova Scotian dusk — the colour of moon mist. Looking across the Northumberland Strait. PEI is out there somewhere. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Classic Nova Scotian dusk — the colour of moon mist. Looking across the Northumberland Strait. PEI is out there somewhere. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Good on the internet

What happens when your investigative journalism is labelled a North Korean version of Eat, Pray, Love. I love this article on how Obama works at night – getting a Words with Friends invite from him is my new fantasy. Where athletes learn to be physically umcomfortable, intellectuals must learn to bear mental discomfort to advance their careers. Reducing decision fatigue also helps; here’s how Obama does it.

Haruki Murakami has a new non-fiction book coming out in November (!!!). This comic about a woman who discovers her feminine side through dance. Female explorers who didn’t get enough credit. A supercut of John Oliver freaking out.

The Ebola crisis in West Africa might be over (for now), but people are still dealing with the aftermath. This man survived his own lynching in 1930 Indiana – scroll down for the haunting photo of the mob. Notebooks are making a comeback in the Instagram era. What LGBT tourism looks like after Orlando (hint: not Bosnia). This 19th century Scottish scoundrel changed the way we visualize data. How 30 year olds are traveling better than 20 year olds.

Wisdom of the Week

“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.” – Mark Twain, from Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1935, p.240

Wisdom by Mark Twain, photo of path by me. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Wisdom by Mark Twain, photo of path by me. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Hope you’ve got a great week coming up. This morning I’m waking up in Nova Scotian cottage country smelling like a bonfire and bug spray, watching friends play a game of Fluxx, listening to the sizzle of bacon and looking forward to french toast. So far, I’m off to a pretty good start. Be good to yourself, and I’ll see you back here next Sunday! If not sooner. Happy Canada day weekend.

Happy little Canadian lupins. I’ve been watching a lot of Bob Ross lately. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Happy little Canadian lupins. I’ve been watching a lot of Bob Ross lately. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)


The Sunday Letter

The Sunday Letter | 2016.06.19

I arrived back in Nova Scotia exactly two weeks ago. Hopped off the plane and quickly acquired a Tim Horton’s everything bagel toasted with herb and garlic cream cheese. My token offering to the gods of Canadian travellers.


There were exactly two days where I didn’t have to do much before jumping back in to classes with my Masters at King’s. Strep throat then proceeded to chase me and I’ve been recovering from that for the last five days. I didn’t get sick once in Bosnia and I think my immune system was just done with me.

Travel decompression is a weird thing. Everyone deals with the transition differently. From being on the road to living out of your home base again. Or from living abroad and returning home and having that weird reverse-culture Shock feeling, where suddenly the rituals of home seem more foreign than the ‘foreign’ place you’ve been.

I like to think I’ve gotten better at coming home. It’s hard when you love being on the road. In Jr. High I went every summer to overnight camps (or ‘sleepaway’ camps, as they say in the USA) where I’d be away from home for a week or two. I would have so much fun at these camps, where I had friends, a great routine, freedom to read in my spare time and lots of adventures and exploring.

Coming home I always cried in the car. Then for the next few days I would be irritable, grumpy, and generally annoying to my parents. I like to think I’ve gotten better, despite the added difficulty of jetlag.

Now when I come home there’s usually a day or two of ‘oh how nice, the shower always works! All my stuff is here! So convenient!’ Followed by a day or so of ‘Hm, what’s my next adventure now?’ And then eventually figuring out and committing to my new ritual of being ‘at home’.

This time I was away ten weeks, and coming home I was grumpy (just ask Rob). I was like, “Classrooms? No! I don’t want to go back to class. I’ve been IN THE WORLD. I must go back!” To which Rob calmly reminded me, “Hey, remember how you really want that Masters. Like, it’s an important thing you committed to it, and it’s something you really want to do?” Me: “Oh, yes. Right. Okay. Focus.”

How to love Nova Scotia after being away

The first thing I do is eat ALL MY FAVOURITE FOOD. Like, I hit up Wasabi House twice in the first week I was here. Also, if you go to Wasabi House, my favourite thing there is the torched salmon belly. TRY IT. It’s amazing.

Other places I raided multiple times included: The Canteen and Two if By Sea, Good Robot brewing on Robie Street.

The thing I haven’t eaten yet that I am most looking forward to eating Is the K-dog from the Food Wolf and Tokyo Fries from Stillwell (I hear their new beer garden is pretty swell). Also, I haven’t been to the Timber Lounge HFX. That opened last month and looks awesome. You throw axes and drink beers. Bam. Fulfilling Buffy the Vampire Slayer childhood fantasies with buddies. Sounds like a great time.

Duncan’s Cove

Other than stuffing my face, another way to fall back in love with home is going to the ocean. This may be a Scotian thing. We’re tend to be happier in the presence of water. We took the van and our friend Ben and walked the Duncan’s Cove Coastal Trail, about a 20-minute drive outside Halifax.


The area has a lot of abandoned WWII bunkers and a lot of great surprises, like a huge echoey cave that waves crash into, and unexpected detours around coves.

Also, this ultra-modern house that makes you feel like you’re in a dystopian novel.


Also, this ultra-modern house that makes you feel like you’re in a dystopian novel.


So yeah, welcome home, me!


Book of the Week

I used to do these separately, but seeing as I’m trying to read one book per week to keep up with finishing my goal of 52 books this year, it seemed natural to include it in here.

“We Stand on Guard for Thee,” by Brian K. Vaughn and


Brian K. Vaughan is the writer for Saga, an epic graphic novel series that I’ve been reading, so when I saw his name on the cover and the big bad American bot stomping out Canada, I figured I had to pick it up. The artist he’s teamed up with for this piece is Steve Skroce, known for his story board art for the Matrix. I wanted a quick and easy read and this seemed to fit the bill.

Quick was the right word. I’m not sure it even took me an hour to finish this, I zipped right through. It’s a fun read, although if you’re looking for something deep or fulfilling in terms of storyline, avert thine eyes. It almost reads like a pilot for a series. All these characters and context are introduced, but there are so few panels that by the end you’re left feeling, ‘But what happened in between?’.

There is some good humour, like a first-generation-Canadian woman of Syrian parents arguing with a Cree man as to which one of them has more of a historical right to pilot a giant robot to destroy the invading Americans. (The woman ends up stealing it, but she apologizes, like a good Canadian).

U.S. vs. Canada dystopian novels are always fun. Mostly because the idea of it happening has always seemed so crazy and improbable to me. Well, maybe not with this election cycle, but it definitely seemed improbable in the past.

Here’s some other fiction about the U.S. And Canada going to war. This list is a few years old. Do you know any others?

Cool things on the Internet

This guy always lets his mom know he’s okay. An epic doc shot entirely on iPhone about the first Bangladeshi to scale the seven peaks. A photo essay through a Bosnian Eco zone. Princeless is ruling feminist comics. This writer infiltrates and tweets a Trump rally. Setting out on a life of travel in your thirties. How photography can create mindfulness and meaning in your life. I really want to try a Teforia.

That’s it from me! It’s nice to be back.

Bosnia & Herzegovina The Sunday Letter

The best introduction to Bosnia


I hope you’re having a good day. I’m coming to you today from Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The city is nestled along a river in a mountain valley and has been described by at least one person other than myself as ‘the world’s largest village’.

In fact, Sarajevo (pronounced ‘Sarah-hey-vo’) is a city of about 500,000. That’s about the same population as Halifax, Nova Scotia, for Canadians reading this.

One example of my incredible luck during this past 48 days of travel is how I got from the Sarajevo airport to my hostel.  I landed in Sarajevo at around 11pm, after being delayed in Zagreb, Croatia for several hours. As I stood in the airport trying to use my 15-minute allocation of free airport wifi to contact my AirBnB hostel host in order to arrange a taxi, airport security started turning the lights off – the airport was shutting down.

There were two people left working at the airport – a guy in a rental car agency trying to sort things out with a frustrated tourist and a girl just shutting down her Enterprise rent-a-car booth and getting ready to leave. I went over to her and asked her awkwardly if I could call a cab (my phone had NO SERVICE, ack).

“Where are you going?” she asked, “city centre?”

“Yeah.” I replied.

“If you don’t mind waiting five minutes, I can take you.” she said.

“Really? Thank you! That would be awesome.”

Not that taking cabs are expensive here, but I was so tired and it meant I wouldn’t have to wait, plus I’d get to chat with this girl. My first friend in Bosnia!

As if getting offered a ride wasn’t great enough, when I showed her on Google Maps where I needed to go, she knew my hostel right away. She lives around the corner from it and her brother is buddies with the owner.

Yes. In a city of half a million people the first person I met was basically the perfect person. It was like landing in a foreign country and being greeted by a family member. She was so nice and was telling me all about Sarajevo. She was born in the city when it was under siege during the Bosnian War. Her and her boyfriend drove me right to the door of the hostel, helped me get my luggage out and then wished me a good evening. If they’re reading this: You are the best! Thank you!

In the morning, this was the first thing I saw:

So, a better introduction to this country I couldn’t imagine.

Also, I highly recommend The Doctor’s House hostel. If you want this view, book the 6-person dorm. It has a balcony where you can sip a beer and watch the sun go down over the valley while listening to evening prayers echo in the valley. In short, paradise.

There was a great group of travellers at the hostel while I was there (I just moved today to an apartment arranged by Project 1948 for the rest of the month). A lot of solo women travellers, which was great as we all teamed up to explore the city together.

With that update, here are some great things on the Internet this week:

So that’s my song for this week. As for your week, I hope it’s a good one.

p.s. Okay like 30 minutes after posting it I realized CBC had published my story about FGM education in London! It’s the last piece I did as a part of my CBC London internship and I’m pretty happy about it! I pitched, researched, interviewed and photographed it. Thanks to everyone who helped! Either with letting me talk to them or helping me edit it afterward. ❤️

The Sunday Letter

The Sunday Letter

Friday brought the last day of my internship with CBC in London. In a way, it’s good because I don’t think I could have afforded living in London much longer (although I am now a connoisseur of £2 dinners from Sainsbury’s). On Thursday I fly out to Sarajevo to begin an adventure in the Balkans with Photographers Without Borders, where the cost of living is significantly cheaper.

Using the McDonald’s scale, a combo in Bosnia costs 8KM (convertible marks), or about $6 Canadian. The same in London costs £5, or about $9.40 Canadian. I am very excited just typing that.

The Project 1948 Sarajevo trip has grown a lot since we first started planning it. What started as a project based solely in Sarajevo now has us traveling through refugee camps in the Balkans, with a whole team of NGO workers and Fujifilm to tell the stories of families caught up in this forced migration and also deliver aid.

Speaking of forced migration, you may have heard Canada mentioned in the news recently. There’s a wildfire bigger than New York City burning through western Canada right now. Here it is in the New York Times. It may take months to put out.

While firefighters wait to get the rain they desperately need to help put out the fire, 80,000 people have been internally displaced. For many, there will be nothing to go back to except scorched earth.

Right now the Canadian Government is matching donations made to the Red Cross to help fight the fire and get supplies needed by people who’ve been displaced by the fire.

I donated. It’s really easy.

Even $2 could buy a coffee or toiletries for someone having a really bad day.

A lot of us Maritimers (those of us from the East Coast of Canada), are especially feeling the pull to help Fort McMurray. There are a lot of east coasters working in the oilsands. In the ’90s when Nova Scotia’s fisheries industry collapsed due to a federally-imposed moratorium in cod, lots of east coasters headed out west. Rob’s sister used to live in Fort McMurray. I feel confident in saying everyone in Nova Scotia knows someone who’s gone west to look for work. Here’s hoping everyone in Fort McMurray can find the help they need.

What I’ve been reading on the internet this week:

That’s a wrap for this week. Wish me luck as I’m gearing up for a trip to Wales, then on to Sarajevo. Finally!

The Sunday Letter

The Sunday Letter

You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford. -Samuel Johnson

This week I had the best surprise I didn’t think I was going to get. Rob got a last-minute ticket from Halifax to London and came and visited me for a week. I was still working at my CBC internship during the day, but by night we toured around London, saw the city from the London Eye, had some amazing ramen, enjoyed British pubs and spent a day at Oxford and London’s West End before he had to catch a flight back to Halifax this morning.

It was just nice to be together. Five weeks have passed since I left Halifax, and seeing his face was a love-filled reminder of home. It was the best birthday present. The Mophie case he got me is going to be really helpful in keeping my phone (a.k.a. a journalist’s best friend) when I’m in the Balkans next month. I also picked up Susan Sontag’s On Photography, a signed copy of the Girl of Ink & Stars, and Martha Gellhorn’s Travels with Myself and Another at Waterstones book store in Oxford.

During his stay Rob discovered (for me) that I’d won an award! Although I couldn’t attend the award ceremony as it was in Toronto, I ended up taking home 1st place in the audio storytelling category and they also wrote a nice blog post about me. Not a bad surprise to get.

Then today, after leaving ourAirBnB at 6:15am, getting separated on the underground to Paddington (take note: if traveling with someone you should never make a mad dash for the closing tube doors without alerting the other person), re-uniting for a brief breakfast and then saying goodbye as he went off to Heathrow, I went back to my home for the next few weeks at the Victoria League in Leinster (Lin-ster, not Line-ster) Square and promptly slept for a few hours before wrangling the washing and then heading off to do a lovely interview on the other side of town.

When the hot, sweet sun came out this afternoon I fled with other sensible Londoners to Hyde Park for a few glorious hours of Vitamin D. I’m even watching football (whoops, soccer) and can feel myself slowly turning British. That’s when you know you’re good at colonization, when visitors to your country start assimilating for you! I’m hoping I leave the country with a silly walk.

Here’s what’s good on the internet this week:

Hope you’re having an awesome day!

Mel Hattie Signature 2016 - Final - Mel Only






p.s. Do you like the header video? Bam! WordPress magic. I took the video at Kensington Palace in Hyde Park this afternoon. It’s partially the reason why this is going up so late. Technical difficulties (and maybe that nap this morning…maybe).