Is Anyone Listening?

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.

Musa

Meet Musa who was initially reluctant to let me take his photo.

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.

About Joanne Sisco

Retired but not idle. Life is an adventure - I plan to continue to embrace it.
This entry was posted in Memories, Random Stuff and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

102 Responses to Is Anyone Listening?

  1. treerabold says:

    I’m sorry it took me 11 days to see this post.
    It is a sad time in our history for both Canada and the U.S. The intolerance just continues to thicken.
    Why people are unable to see how ridiculous their all encompassing bigotry is I will never understand.
    Thank you for sharing your experience. Maybe one (or more!) person will see the humanity of refugees and immigrants instead of continuing to follow their blind ignorance!

    Like

  2. NancyTex says:

    Harper is showing his Reform Party roots, and they’re not very pretty. I hope two groups make it a priority to vote next week: Millenials and Immigrants. If both those groups make it to the polls, we *should* see some change.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      The good news is that turnout at the advance polls was *robust*. Hopefully that translates to considerable voter participation. I agree that the Millenials, the Ys, and the Immigrants need to come out in force.

      Like

  3. Alex Hurst says:

    I think it was good of you to listen, but also, further, to share his story. I agree with you… prejudices are some of the most dividing things that a society can hold on to, and especially in the case of refugees, I find myself so often sad and distraught over their treatment.

    Like

  4. I missed this one. I don’t know how that happened. But I’m so glad I found it.

    You are a beautiful human being, Joanne, to give this man an attentive and sensitive listening ear. I am sure it lightened his heart to have someone to talk to, even a stranger.

    I don’t want to start about the refugee situation because it will only inflame the constant simmering shame, horror and anger I feel at our government’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. As for the increasing intolerance in society, I firmly believe that has grown because of the attitudes at the top. Recently, a friend on Facebook has been sharing posts along the lines of “Attention, Muslims, if you want to live in Australia, you have to be like us” which has horrified me. I remove them from my feed and I’m fighting the urge to de-friend her. It has become socially acceptable to be racist and intolerant in this country.

    On the positive side, there were massive rallies around the country yesterday in support of refugees and doctors and nurses at the Royal Children’s Hospital are refusing to return asylum seeker children in their care to the detention centres. I’m hoping this is the beginning of a change.

    And one last comment on the governments we somehow end up with:

    “What kind of man would put a known criminal in charge of a major branch of government? Apart from, say, the average voter.” – Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jannatwrites says:

    It’s great that you offer an ear to share others’ burdens. Somehow I think having the opportunity to tell his story may have offered some kind of healing or feeling that he had a voice. There is much injustice in the world and there’s no way to make any sense of it

    Like

  6. Mrs. P says:

    Our world is changing indeed. At first I thought it was just the US but it is clearly happening all over the globe.

    Another blogger mentioned something interesting which gave me pause. In earlier days when we were young so many of us came from similar backgrounds and agreement was easier. Now with multi-culturalism we have so many differences that we hardly can agree on anything. There is so much “I’m right and you’re wrong” in our philosophical belief systems. This transcends into government and we get issues like government shut downs and disharmony. The government is no longer governing and the dividing chasm is growing deeper and deeper.

    In a comment above, about the younger generation, having grown up in a multi-cultural society seeming to have less issue than the older…there is so much truth in that idea. If we look at children, especially young ones…they do not see the color of ones skin, the religion or the clothing. They see the individual…and if left to their own devices without the interference of parent’s and teachers (the grown ups of the world) they are often naturally warm, generous and caring towards others. Bias and bigotry are learned. If we could only take a cue from these children who have nothing to gain…perhaps this society and planet could start looking at our shared beliefs rather than differences…and begin to heal. The only flaw in diversity is that differences can divide. We’ve got to find a better way.

    Like

  7. I voted at the advance polls yesterday. I started to shake. What the heck was that about, I wondered? I am not intimidated by the whole polling/voting thing. But why the shakes? Here’s my theory: I think that I desperately want a change in government. And I am afraid that my wishes will not be granted.

    Reiner took a phone call from a long-time friend of his. He, too, voted yesterday. For the incumbent. Know why? Because he fears getting his head chopped off by the religious fanatic. My husband’s friend is the one that I fear.

    Know what else is frustrating? As a spokesperson of our charitable organization, I am forbidden to speak out pro or con for a political entity. Is anyone watching what I do? Part of my thinks not, but the other part is toeing the line. Today I make an exception by responding here, hoping to hide behind you.

    Beautiful post.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      It makes me both sad and angry that fear mongering works. That comment from Reiner’s friend inspired me to look for a few stats (as at 2011) online:
      – You are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack

      – You are 12,571 times more likely to die from cancer than from a terrorist attack

      — You are 11,000 times more likely to die in an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane

      — You are 1048 times more likely to die from a car accident than from a terrorist attack

      –You are 404 times more likely to die in a fall than from a terrorist attack

      Seriously! How can people be so gullible as to believe this rhetoric we’re being fed?!!!

      Quite frankly, I’m more worried that a wheel will fall off an airplane on route to Pearson Airport and it will land on my house while I’m in it. That doesn’t mean I plan to move any time soon.

      Like

    • Mrs. P says:

      As a teacher, I too was forbidden to speak out and sometimes I just hated that. Now that I am retired, I can do what I want! 😀 You’re secret is safe with me. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It seems like you and Musa were meant to meet and each received something important from the other. I barely recognize our country these days Joanne and am so hoping,against hope, that those that spread bigotry and fear will be turfed out. If they’re not then we have a lot of work ahead of us😔

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      You said it … I don’t recognize our country anymore. It has drifted so far into a territory of misinformation and intolerance.
      It annoys me that the *left* is fighting among themselves rather than uniting against the *right* and what they are doing to Canada.
      Grrr.

      Like

  9. Thank you for lending a listening ear. You probably eased his aching heart by so many notches. It is really the least that we can all learn to do 😊

    Like

  10. Pingback: Is Anyone Listening? | Bill Banner

  11. What a wonderful heart you have, Joanne. It’s obvious this man needed to speak and your kind face loosed the knots holding his story inside. I hope he smiled afterwards as well.
    I hear you. The signs are clear. I know who I’m not considering… ^^’

    Like

  12. Su Leslie says:

    Joanne you are such a good person for listening. I think I must have something of the same “stranger magnet” quality, but I don’t always respond so openly. Actually, years ago when I travelled a lot by bus I used to carry a book that was obviously in a foreign language and pretend to read it to avoid people sharing their life stories with me. In my defense, that time on the bus was my only “alone” time of the day and I am an introvert. But aside from your kindness to Musa, I think your post shows a humanity that I sometimes fear is disappearing from civic life. Your comment that the stories “left a little burden on your heart” has touched mine more than I can say. Over the last few weeks as people in my little corner of the Pacific watched truly terrible images of asylum-seekers’ plight in Europe, our government quibbled about increasing NZs refugee quota. In the face of hundreds of thousands of people in need, our government agreed to take 600 (yes, that’s a 6 and only two zeros) extra refugees — over the next three years. Apparently “they cost the country a lot.” I won’t even begin to unpack that stupid statement.
    I suppose I should be grateful that I don’t live in Australia, where casual racism against indigeneous people is endemic and where anti-Islamic sentiment seems to have bloomed like black mould in recent years.
    I guess what upsets me most about much of the current hysteria about immigration and refugees is that almost all of it comes from people who are themselves migrants, or the fairly recent descendants of migrants.
    Hm. I’m starting to foam at the mouth.
    Kia kaha Joanne; as long as there are good people in the world, evil can’t entirely triumph.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Su, I’m reading your comment right after I just read an article in our major national newspaper that our PM had SUSPENDED all refugee applications from Syria for several weeks and only those approved by his office could be processed. These are applications that had been vetted and recommended by the United Nations … but we stopped processing them anyway.

      I am in complete disbelief that this man and his government continues to be supported and defended.
      Well … I guess I can believe it. There are a lot of bitter, angry, cold-hearted people in this world. Unfortunately many of them live and vote in Canada 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      • Su Leslie says:

        Oh Joanne. That is (I was about to say unbelievable, but of course it’s not). It’s just incredibly sad and bigoted and cruel. You have elections coming up don’t you? What are the changes of the current PM and his party being re-elected?

        Like

        • joannesisco says:

          Current polls show that no one will win a majority, but unfortunately the current government could be re-elected.

          Unfortunately we have a 3 (major) party system and the *left* is divided. This provides the window for the *right* to win again. If they do, I will be despondent.

          If the young people and new Canadians vote in numbers, the *right* will be defeated. Unfortunately there have been a lot of *incidences* that favour the incumbent.
          Most recently I’ve heard that many voter cards have been printed with incorrect voting stations on them.

          I am not feeling good about my country right now.

          Like

          • Su Leslie says:

            How depressing! Do you have a “first past the post” system like the UK? That works against plurality of parties. It’s terrible to think that Canada, a country I associate with high standards of political and civic behaviour, could suffer from electoral “irregularities” and other dirty political behaviour. I understand how you must feel; I despair over my country’s enthusiastic embrace of neo-liberalism and all the evil that comes with it.

            Like

  13. Reblogged this on The happy Quitter! and commented:
    My friend Joanne wrote a must-read post about refugees and forced me to re-blog 🙂

    Like

  14. I am following the news every day, look at the pictures in Europe, where many refugees are still waiting in camps…and winter is just around the corner. I stand here in disbelieve that the world is not reacting. I can’t believe we, the U.S. the country founded by immigrants, don’t take more people in. I feel ashamed and helpless. I am working on my own post about it. Pictures and the stories behind it are important. Great post my friend. Bridget XX

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Thanks Bridget. You literally brought tears to my eyes.
      The world is crying but our leaders aren’t listening … afterall, “there might be terrorists among those refugees”. Really?!!!
      We have a greater risk of incubating a terrorist at home because they’ve been marginalized.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh my Goodness, I didn’t mean to make your cry. I am working on a post called “My Grandmother was a refugee” and I am having a hard time with it as well. I guess that will explain why I loved your post so much.

        I feel so helpless. I am proud of Europe, or part of Europe, but so disturbed by some the camps and I fear the hate more than anything.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Sue Slaght says:

    Joanne I imagining the warm feeling that Musa left your conversation feeling. You obviously have a gift of comfort and true listening. His story is heart wrenching as are the thousands of others. what a gift you were to tis gentleman to all of us that you listen to.

    Like

  16. Sammy D. says:

    Joanne, this strike me as an excellent way to increase awareness and tolerance by featuring those you meet, as you have here. Putting names, faces and details to obscure labels like ‘immigrant’ are necessary to bring issues like this down to a human level. Knowing you make a difference by listening to them and sharing their stories should alleviate whatever personal guilt you feel.

    We all carry ingrained biases, it’s true, and constant negative media reports on human misdeeds don’t help; they skew our minds to the negative.

    But I think the far bigger issue is how we address our personal reluctance and facilitate bridges. I think we all encounter instances where we could interact with someone ‘different’ but there is such frenzied hype about how insensitive ‘whites’ are that I hesitate trying to engage with a stranger for fear of being accused of offending, pandering, being insensitive. On the other hand, I have found myself on the listening end with several older immigrants and should follow your example to share their stories.

    I see our younger generations interacting easily in a far more diverse community than we were privy to as children. I think the future carries more positive relationships because their roots are more inclusive.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Sammy, you make a point I hadn’t considered. I’ve never told other people’s stories before and quite frankly, it was REALLY hard. It took me 3 days to write this post and I almost deleted it twice.

      … but I think you might be on to something really important.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sammy D. says:

        Writing about other people is much more difficult for me than writing about myself. I haven’t completely figured out the reasons, but as I read your fully formed tale, I thought of several immigrant customers or clients I’ve met through the years and wish I’d been in the blogging mindframe at the time because their stories would have been rich. At the least, you have sparked me to remain aware of chance encounters in the future. I truly belive it’s going to take many years of single interactions like yours – with later retelling – to change the way we think about each other. Humans will always be in conflict but it doesn’t have to track racial, religious or ethnic divisions. I hope.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. pike says:

    Joanne, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’m sad what happens in Europe and in my country nowadays. I hope we will choose humanity.

    Like

  18. hilarymb says:

    Hi Joanne – I don’t know anything about Canadian politics … I think I’ll just leave that there.

    Musa’s story is wonderful to read – yet so so sad. People are terribly selfish and don’t realise the agonies people go through to be able to live a life of freedom … I just hope that the crisis levels we are facing at the moment … will in 50 years time leave us all (well I won’t be here) accepting the good that will come out of this adversity. We’ve seen it happen in our historical life-times … so let’s hope and expect it will happen once again. We are in dangerous times at the moment.

    I’d love to meet Musa … I do hope he has been able to make a ‘good’ life for himself and his Canadian family and friends … excellent post – Hilary

    Like

  19. nimitode says:

    I love this! 👌
    ( have you any interest in travel, do check my travel blog)

    Like

  20. Corina says:

    I think it’s a basic fear of the unknown which sometimes evolved into a prejudice. It’s sad that people can’t be curious about people who are different, curious in a good way.

    Like

  21. Nancy says:

    A very timely and important topic. Thanks for sharing and thanks to Musa for giving a face to this tragic situation.

    Like

  22. Mama Cormier says:

    I am so in agreement with you. This election has made me sad, especially with the support the Prime Minister is getting over the niqab issue. What next? Are people who have a sensitivity to light not allowed to wear sunglasses to the swearing in ceremony? I’m sure the real reason smacks of racism. I’m even more upset about the hotline to report barbaric acts committed by your neighbours. Reminds my husband and me of the boys in the Hitler Youth who were encouraged to report any unlawful acts committed by their parents. What does this prime minister consider a barbaric act? Is criticizing his foreign policy or stand on terrorism a breech on national security? I hope people will reject his fear mongering techniques and see the light before October 19th. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. Why should I as an immigrant who came to this country 61 years ago and my children who all hold dual citizenships feel like second class citizens?

    Like

  23. Heyjude says:

    I’m not quite on the same scale as you, but I do seem to attract people who proceed to tell me intimate stories of their lives. When I travelled to work, many years ago, on a bus route that passed a very large hospital I often had people sitting next to me who would tell me all about their reason for visiting the hospital – their illness/their relative’s illness. I’d just adopt the appropriate face and nod and sympathise. It was only a 10 minute ride to where I got off, but sometimes it seemed an eternity!

    Like

  24. bikerchick57 says:

    I’m listening to you and I agree. Humanity, in some ways, is losing it’s heart and the knowledge that we are all the same inside. We love, have jobs, have families…but the imperfect thoughts are what drive people to hate and treat others differently. It’s too bad we don’t stop and listen because it would make this world a much better place.

    Like

  25. NotAPunkRocker says:

    I am glad he found a caring soul in you to listen. Quality matters when it comes to sharing a story like that with someone, and he could tell right away you were the right one in that moment.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Thanks for the kind words. I didn’t really want to sit there and listen … certainly not for an hour and a half … but there was something about the sadness around him that made me stay. My instinct told me that something happened, but he never touched on it.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. mickscogs says:

    Same here in Aus land Joanne. Some incidents here of late have made the situation worse. Fact is the majority of us are immigrants like them. We brought our differences with us and imposed it on the local population. Thanks for a great post.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Thanks Mick. We are all guilty of our own petty prejudices – we’re human, it happens … like my general irritation with Chinese drivers.
      … but it’s the bigger malaise that worries me – like if I was to start screaming obscenities and telling them to ‘go back to where they came from’. That’s not cool – and it gets worse from there.

      Like

      • mickscogs says:

        We actually have a locally produced program by our multi-cultural TV broadcaster, SBS, called “Go back to where you came from”. It places people with, shall I say, strident views in the shoes of the refugees. Most come out of the process converted.

        Like

  27. Brenda Sharp says:

    Thanks for your heartfelt words Joanne. I agree with you 100%. Thanks for taking the time to listen.

    Like

  28. Brenda says:

    Thanks for your heartfelt words Joanne. I agree with you 100%. Thanks for taking the time to listen.

    Brenda Sharp brendasharp@rogers.com

    >

    Like

  29. Such beautiful scenery behind him (awesome pic!) and such an ugly story of his experiences through others inside him. And yet….there was you…..ready to listen, ready to care, and ready to speak out and make this personal for everyone else. I’m so awed by you, Joanne. You’re definitely a high-class human being leading the way to making this world a better place.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Thanks Torrie – you’re always so full of kind words and encouragement, but the truth is there are so many people doing amazing things everyday .. and I’m definitely not one of them.

      But I do believe everyone has a story to tell, and everyone wants their story to be heard by someone. I learned this in my mother’s final years as her world started to shrink. All she wanted – more than anything else – was someone to talk to.

      If I can, I try to listen and hope it makes a difference.

      Liked by 1 person

  30. And here I thought that Canadians were nicer than we Americans. Sorry to hear that you are experiencing the same fear mongering campaigns that we’ve grown used to. It’s always been easier to blame the “others” when things aren’t exactly as we’d like them to be. What a story Musa had! And, how nice that you were there to listen.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      It’s actually a sore point with many Canadians that we believe we lost our international ‘nice’ status after 12 years under this government. ie … apparently it’s a mean and dangerous world and it’s naive to be ‘nice’.

      Personally, I think there is still a LOT of room for ‘nice’ in the world.

      Like

  31. I don’t know Joanne. Growing up in America I have always been proud of the fact that I could turn a blind eye to people’s cultural differences. Yet, after getting to know certain ethnic groups, I too, at times, make generalizations, although I always see everyone as an individual. On the other hand, I’ve also been a victim of reverse discrimination. I guess it just never ends.

    Like

  32. TheLastWord says:

    Paula had it right. My neighbour ranted about Indians and Pakistanisn he’d seen wearing traditional clothes. To my wife. Who was wearing an Indian top over jeans. She said “But I’m wearing such clothes too!” He replied “You’re different!” Possibly because we’ve been neighbours for over 10 years….

    I read about Bill C-24 and “old stock Canadians” and I’m worried whether I will become a refugee in my own country. When I last read the history of Canada, old stock Canadians were like me… immigrants. I’m already a second class citizen, with a threat hanging over me. “You say one word that I don’t agree with and I’ll send you back and revoke your citizenship”

    This is pure fear mongering, hoping to polarize opinion and win an election.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      I hear you and agree. I’m not “old stock” either and was as dismayed as many others to discover that our government is behaving like there are ‘classes’ of citizenship. Sounds like something out of a Hollywood government conspiracy movie.

      Liked by 1 person

  33. Lael says:

    I fear for our country. There is a huge part of my soul that says good will triumph and we as Canadians will vote in a party that can turn things around for us but the fear is still there, as I await the final outcome. We have opportunities every day to set the tone for our surroundings, to be a good example. I take comfort in that because then I know I’m not powerless, regardless of the outcome of our election. My fingers and toes are furiously crossed 🙂
    Thank you for this post! It helps me to know there are others out there who feel the same.

    Like

  34. Norm 2.0 says:

    Great minds think alike – this whole prolonged negative election campaign has been bothering me for some time now too.
    I can’t wait for the 19th. Hopefully the fear mongering, name calling, and empty promises will stop and we can all go back to sanity again…
    Just not sure what the expected minority government will have in store for us.

    Like

  35. Paula says:

    Thank you for this post, Joanne. While I’ve been following the news and having my heart broken on a daily basis, I choose to believe that people are generally good and kind if only they could get to know the individual. But when faced with anonymity, it seems that fear rules rather than love. So it seems to me that by telling the individual stories, we help the cause of love and work to dispel fear. I hope.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s