June/July 2008

Canadians Abroad

The ups and downs of travelling abroad

By C. Hersey

Wherever in the world there’s mining, chances are a Canadian is, or has been, there. For Peter Edmunds, newly appointed vice president for global strategic customers with Atlas Copco CMT, the list of countries visited is chock full of check marks. From fishing in Namibia to getting a little too close to hungry lions in the Namib, Edmunds has experienced a lot of what the world has to offer. Here, he kindly shares his story on the ups and downs of one Canadian travelling abroad.

Born and raised in South Africa, Edmunds got into mining straight out of school in northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Two and a half years later, he left for England and studied mining engineering at the Camborne School of Mines. It was during a summer job at Rio Tinto’s New Quirke mine in Elliot Lake, Ontario, that Edmunds first fell in love with Canada. He was offered a permanent position by Rio Tinto, after which he moved around for a bit before finally settling down with Atlas Copco in Montreal in September 1971 as a sales promotion engineer for mechanized mining equipment. He became a Canadian citizen in December 1975.

Edmunds travels, on average, one week out of three. During the last 15 months alone, he has been to the Batu Hijau mine in Indonesia, the Boddington mine in Western Australia, the Waterval and Palabora mines in South Africa, the Kemi mine in Finland, a marble open pit mine in Spain and various head offices in larger cities. “When not travelling, I am handling all the work generated by my visits,” said Edmunds.

When asked about some of the perks that come with travelling abroad, he responded very enthusiastically: “Living in another country can be a wonderful experience for one’s family, especially with younger children. One experiences different cultures, cuisine, countrysides and ways of life. For instance in Windhoek, Namibia, we were living between two deserts — the Kalahari and the Namib. Going on safari often meant camping in dry river beds. One memorable night in the Namib, we had to keep the fire going all night because a hungry male lion was prowling around and showing far too much interest in us. Catching fish off the beach on the Skeleton Coast of Namibia with nobody around for miles was also pretty exciting.”

Travelling the world with his wife and two young sons also posed a few interesting challenges. “We learned very soon to equip each boy with his own backpack for the plane,” said Edmunds. “It was amazing how quickly they would settle down for a 14-hour flight with their own toys, pyjamas and so on, and stay content for the duration.” The family also chose flights with interesting stopovers, which included mini holidays in London, Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Amsterdam, Austria, Sweden, the Seychelles and Disney World. “They still talk about landing at JFK airport in New York and having to transfer to La Guardia airport by helicopter, which meant flying in between rows of high-rise buildings,” he recalled. “It was a great thrill.”

The experiences, he noted, greatly impacted his boys. His older son is now a lawyer with a strong interest in human rights and has spent time at The Hague and seven months in Bangladesh dealing with human rights issues. His younger son completed a degree in international affairs and then worked for 13 months in northwestern Tanzania with 250,000 refugees from Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Although the benefits are numerous, travelling does come with its downsides, some more serious than others. “You have to deal with telephones that don’t work, currencies that fluctuate, strict foreign exchange controls, work visas, local customs, frequent exposure to hepatitis, AIDS, malaria, poisonous snakes, spiders, scorpions and freedom fighters,” said Edmunds, adding, “One time, a bomb exploded in a butcher shop about a kilometre from our home in Windhoek, killing three people.”

Despite the sometimes scary aspects of working abroad, Edmunds was adamant that “If you get a chance to work abroad, go for it. It normally means more money, certainly different holidays and a whole plethora of unique experiences.” But perhaps one of the greatest upshots of his travels is that of the national pride he feels for his adopted homeland. “Be thankful that you are Canadian,” he said enthusiastically. “And guard that nationality very carefully.”

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