I seem to be the type of person who attracts people needing an audience. It’s not unusual for random people to unexpectedly start telling me their life story and the problems they’ve had along the way. Sometimes it can become intensely personal.
Maybe it’s because I respond kindly to a greeting or offer my own.
Maybe it’s because I have a tendency to smile and make eye contact with strangers in public.
Maybe it’s simply because I will stop and politely listen while they empty their heart.
Whatever the reason, it seems to happen with some frequency and this week has been no exception. A short walk along the lakeshore turned into a 90-minute conversation with a man named Musa. He wore a melancholy about him that was almost tangible and when I offered a polite greeting to him, I inadvertantly opened a flood gate.
Through his thick accent and broken english, I learned Musa was an Afghani, perhaps somewhat older than I am, who came to Canada as a refugee in 1988 with his wife and 5 small children under the age of seven.
He talked about fleeing his small village in the mountains during the war between the Taliban and the Russians. He described his journey to the capital Kabul where he experienced electric lights for the first time, being arrested in Syria without Arabic papers, being threatened at gunpoint by Lebanese militia, and finally being granted asylum by Canada … an ordeal in total that took 9 months.
He talked about cultural shock, dealing with the harsh Canadian winters, learning to speak english, and struggling to make a living to support a growing family.
In his soft voice, Musa gave me a brief education on the different Muslim groups and why he can never return to his home village to visit his family left behind so many years ago. To return would be certain death.
This is the second time in the past 6 weeks I’ve had someone tell me their refugee story. Each one has left a little burden on my heart that I cannot shake.
Their stories continue to be played out every day in the thousands. The desperation and the need hasn’t changed … but what is different is the decreasing tolerance level for people “who are not the same as us”.
Canadians are in the final weeks of a federal election campaign. Our current Prime Minister is seeking re-election on a platform that increasingly smells of racism and fear-mongering. What I see and read on social media everyday makes me cry inside.
People who claim to believe in freedom and human rights for all, then behave in ways that contradict their words … subtle prejudices … perhaps shying away from the service worker in a turban, or the unkind stares at the young woman on the street in a hijab or niqab.
Why is it so difficult to accept those who are different from us? Why do we chose to see enemies and certain danger instead of a shared humanity?
I rarely make a political rant. I rarely speak out against the injustices, inequalities, and unreasonable behaviours happening around me … but sometimes the frustrations built up and need an outlet.
Perhaps that’s why I listen.