I was falling asleep in the backseat of an Uber ride, my flight having landed well past midnight after a long and weary day of travel.
Uber has streamlined its mobile application, so I was connected with my driver as soon as I hit the confirm button. It told me his name, car make and model, license plate and his driving experience and ratings. Once we found each other at the Q Door of Terminal 1, I was safely settled into his backseat.
My driver’s heritage was middle eastern and he spoke English as well as I do. I didn’t assume anything about his birthplace, because it doesn’t really matter. He could have been born in Yemen or in Canada. Just like my parents could have been born in France, England, or Scotland, but were born here in Canada.
“Tired?” he asked, looking at me through his rear-view mirror. He was in his twenties (around my son’s age) , neatly dressed and his new car was immaculate. I nodded.
“Flights were delayed due to a storm.”
He nodded back, and turned down the radio, then switched from a music station to a news station. He wasn’t chatty, which was fine, because neither was I. I closed my eyes and half-listened to the interview with the director of a refugee sponsorship program here in Canada. She spoke of the joys of refugee children who had just arrived in Canada on experiencing snow for the first time. Like many of us have done in our own childhood, they laughed as they jumped in the snow. The girl twirled around, her head lifted and tongue stuck out to catch snowflakes. It’s a Canadian experience for sure.
I poked around on my phone and found an article written by a Syrian refugee one year after arriving in Canada, and how thankful he felt. He and his wife spoke English, which gave them a leg up in finding employment. Another article spoke of the challenges a refugee faces …
- Leaving friends and family in war-torn countries
- The aftermath of PTSD from the violence they’ve lived through
- The luck of being chosen to come to Canada
- The shock of trying to integrate into a new country, new climate, new language, new culture and new life.
- The hopelessness of not finding employment.
- The gratitude for the small things they are given – a safe place to live, clothing, food, education and hope.
- The sting of rejection from those who don’t welcome refugees.
- Their determination to give back.
Their stories – if you take the time to read them – are heart-wrenching and heart-warming at the same time. They are grateful for the chance to start again and to be able to raise their children in a safer part of the world. They are lonely, cut off from friends and family, and don’t quite know how to fit in.
I recently read the book Homes : A Refugee Story written by a young boy who came to Canada from Syria. He wanted to tell his story … one that is often lost in the sanitized words of reporting. We have become so desensitized to violence, that we forget it’s real life – not fictional war games – in many parts of the world. People become numbers and statistics clumped together without a second thought of the deeply tragic story each victim has.
Can you imagine arriving in this country – daring to finally breathe and hope – only to be flattened by racist rants and elitist fears? “They” are terrorists. “They” are suicide bombers. “They” will unleash their feuds on our soil (like that didn’t happen in other generations of newcomers to Canada). “They” will abuse the system.
We forget how privileged we are to live in one of the best countries in the world. Does it take that much effort to treat someone as you would want to be treated? Or your son/daughter to be treated?” Put yourself in their shoes.
Their children still cry and cling to them when a loud noise suddenly shatters their silence. It might have just been you, in your impatience, who dropped something on the floor. You hate waiting in the cashier line for someone who is slowly counting out exact change. Or the single mother who is price matching deals.
If only you could walk in their shoes for a day.
There are enough stories of hate crimes, genocide, violence against women and children … we don’t have to make up stories to fuel our assumptions about “them”. Lead with the light and look for the best, not the worst, in someone. “They” could be nice people who have suffered more horrors than you will ever know. Don’t add to their suffering by imagining “they’re all <fill in the blank>”. Division begets hate. It’s not “us” and “them” but “we”. Get to know “them” and their personal stories. They are as deserving of life as we are.
The updated Uber application let me give my driver a 5-star rating and a 20% tip.
“Thanks. Have a safe drive home.” I wished him as he ended the ride. He’d driven the almost hour long trip through ice and snow to take me home for $68CAD. Ten years ago, it was double that cost for a limo. I’d like to think that we are more similar than we are different.
What can you do to help?
Donate something … it can be time, money, or gently used items.
Always know where your donation is going. While optimistic, I am not foolish, and take the time to research any organization I donate to. Are they a registered charity? Where do their funds go? Are they transparent with their financials?
Every year I pick a Christmas time project … I’ve volunteered with animal rescues, helped raise thousands of dollars for women’s shelters, and worked in emergency rooms. This year, I will find a way to share my wealth with a refugee family. I have friends who are donating time and money to help seniors or teach English. Others are doing their best to assist dogs desperately in need of good homes.
I hope you will find the time to donate to a cause that speaks to you. Walk that mile beside someone in their shoes. Read their stories … Watch their videos … this one nicely done by Durham Region Police Services (DRPS). Give up one gift to send a necessity to a stranger.
Let’s all make an effort to make the world a better place. Fight back against the tide of hatred, discrimination and brutality. If all you can do is smile … that’s a great start. Something as simple as a welcoming smile says it all to someone who has endured hardship. Find the cause that stirs you deeply … there is no lack of needed compassion in this world.
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My daughter is obsessed with Canada but only because Shawn Mendes is from there 😂
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We Canadians often don’t know just how lucky we are …
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