“Disposable: designed for or capable of being thrown away after being used or used up”
My swim into Namu was close to two months ago. It has taken me this long to look back at the photos. My heart bled when I landed at the deserted fishing cannery and town – and it still bleeds when I think of what I saw and what I have come to understand.
As a person living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) I have at points in my life felt that others wanted to dispose of me. They wanted me to go hide in the background where they did not have to see me or deal with me. This happened when I was first diagnosed, when I was constructively dismissed from a job and when the MS Society of Canada closed its doors on me and hundreds of others living with MS on Vancouver Island. After all, its easier to hide and ignore that which may be uncomfortable or ugly. This too is the story of Namu, and it has me wondering if the idea of anything being disposable, is a misnomer.
When you first approach Namu, if you are far enough away, it looks beautiful. It is nestled between mountains and the sea with a river that flows to the ocean on one side of the town and a beautiful sandy island on the other. If far enough away it is hard to tell that it has been abandoned.
As you get closer however, you are confronted with the horrible reality that someone has left an enormous and devastating mess behind.
It’s not obvious at first, but as you travel the length of the dock, the dock where there was once a thriving cannery, you see the remains of what once was and you can’t help but wonder how this happened.
As you travel along the length of the dock, you can’t help but be struck by the mass attempt to dispose of something that is not disposable. Like those of us with disease who are often sent home because we are not pretty to look at, or people find us too uncomfortable to deal with, Namu is hidden from common sight. But that does not mean that we, or it, are not here, and that we, or it, don’t matter.
Namu is one example of our attempt at mass disposition and our failure to understand that hidden does not mean gone, and most things can not be “disposed of”.
As you walk along the board walk and through the tiny-town of Namu you become acutely aware that this was once a thriving town. The town store has rows of grocery shelves, many of which are still filled with groceries. And the warehouse to the cannery, crates of packing boxes and fish cans waiting to be filled…all abandoned.
To those who believe that we can dispossess a town simply by abandoning it, or dispose of that that which is not pretty or is difficult to deal with, I am here to say we can not. I am here to say we can not dispose of a town, or a person, by trying to hide it or them. Namu will be the environmental disaster we carelessly left behind until we clean our mess. And to the MS Society of Canada, those of us with MS will continue to be here, even if you took away our building and public place of gathering. We are not disposable and we will not be hidden.