A letter to a young Sammy

Dear Sammy

We never met, but you could have been my brother. As a matter of fact, the blood of our ancestors are similar. Funny, since I was once told by an astrologer that my star chart is highly driven by my ancestors. He told me that a long history of them are very close by. Perhaps that is why I am writing you this letter – I can feel the tears of our ancestors since Saturday.

I also keep seeing the photo of the street car – the grainy photo on Dundas West with the green “Victoria’s Wellness Centre” in the right hand corner. Just over a year ago, there was a good chance I would have been walking on that street, or perhaps even in that streetcar coming home from a night out with friends. I lived just one block away, in an old house on top of a café. If I were in bed, I would have heard the nine pops into the night air. It would have awoken me and I would have worried.

In the last few days, I have wondered what I could have said to you if I was on that bus. I would have known that you and I spoke the same language. Why? Just because I would have known. Would I have called out to you and asked you what was wrong? What was upsetting you? What could I do? I know that I wouldn’t have been scared, because in your eyes, I see the eyes of my brother’s, my cousins, and the ancestors I told you about. I would have been calm amongst them. Perhaps my words in our language would have calmed you too.

Sammy, in days gone past, or if you looked like someone else, you would have not been shot for being agitated, or because you yelled and demanded people get off the bus. You would not have been shot for being a confused and possibly lost teenager. Other methods would taken place that would have tried to diffuse the situation, and try to calm you down. But Sammy, today’s world isn’t friendly to people whose ancestors blood runs through our veins like ours. We are not allowed to show anger, or be upset, or reactive or defiant. This is too much of a stain on the character of our people, and not on the life circumstances we are living. So we must suffer in silence. Or else.

Your mother must think she’s crazy for having sent you from a war-zone that she thought she was saving you from to one that actually targeted you. Your sister Sarah, who I know you loved and protected fiercely, must wonder who she’s supposed to trust if we can’t trust the people who are supposed to serve and protect us. I wish I could go into their homes and cry with them, and extend to them my shoulder. Our community would be the only source of support right now.

Perhaps you were lost, perhaps you were on the wrong track. But you had dreams. You had family. You had a belief that there was something better for you. Your friends are speaking about you as their source of light and that you were fiercely loyal. They speak of you as though they aren’t sure what to do without you around. You were somebody important. They will remember you for that.

Sammy, since Saturday I have felt defeated. I have wondered how many young men like you, with the blood of our ancestors running through their veins have felt lost and defeated. Who will never look at a bus or a police officer the same way again.

Your sister in spirit,

R.

Carol

A couple of days ago, I went to a community celebration of the life of a woman named Carol Oliver. Carol was a key contributor to the community well-being of this city. She was a die-hard defender of the rights of woman and children. She told it how it was, didn’t mince words, and never apologized for it. When we were colleagues, she always made sure that I knew the ropes, and applauded me when I spoke up in a tough crowd. She loved her family and she loved her work. She had the craziest of hair and the sharpest of wit. She is no longer with us, but her impact on people is clear.

There we were, gathered in one of the oldest churches in Calgary. Sitting on 100 year old pews, we watched her brother and sister sing a melody of her favorite songs, her son strumming on his guitar behind them. We saw photos of her – her wild hair, her zest for life, her connection with her family, and we heard people speak the kindest words. We heard a letter, written to her by her daughter, sending her hopes of peace, comfort and contentment. It truly was a celebration, and Carol deserved the most heartiest of them all.

In the midst of all of this, the Reverend took the time to share his own thoughts about his personal relationship with Carol. This is not a surprise, because everyone knows Carol Oliver. In his words, it was clear that she lived an authentic life, because everything he said about her, I certainly witnessed, experienced, heard, saw. She is an example of someone who lived authentically, regardless of who was the audience or who was in company. You were a politician, or board member, a client or an woman in crisis?  You got the same Carol.

It’s always hard to comprehend when really bad things happen to really good people. We all grapple with this question, and most of the time we don’t let ourselves talk about it and it stews in our heads and in our hearts until it eats away at our very core. In the middle of his sermon, while making us cry and laugh all at once, I remember being struck with that angry thought once again.

And then it happened. As though I had said it out loud, or as if Carol was listening, the answer appears. Actually, not the exact answer to the one I just posed, but something that beckoned me to ask another question, perhaps one more poignant, important and pressing. It came when the Reverend said, “When celebrating the life of someone who has passed, it asks us to think about the life we want to live.”

There it is. How simple is that. In remembering Carol’s life, I am asked to think about my own. How do I want to wake up tomorrow and go through my day? What are the commitments I will make to myself and others? How will I be the authentic me, being true in what I am and flexible in what I am too? What are the dreams, thoughts, ideas that I will let flourish, and the ones that I won’t tend to?

It is the answer to these questions that will give the substance to those who speak at my life celebration.

 

 

Thank you to the inventor of the post-it note.

I know. It’s been a while. I could try to convince you that my lapse is warranted because I have been consumed by writing for other reasons (trust me, not as fun as blogging and saying whatever the hell I felt like), and therefore have tried to avoid being at the computer as much as I could. But that doesn’t matter. What matters (to me) is that I’ve made it back to this blog. It’s like that old friend that you don’t see for months on end, and then you have a coffee date with them and it’s like a day had only passed since the last time you spent together. Cheesy? Yes. True? Absolutely.

What brings me back today? Well, if I was to be honest with myself, it probably has to do with the fact that I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about next chapters, and how we know when it’s time to close a chapter and move to the next. Do we actively do that or let it happen? Is there a sweet spot between the two? How do we know that all of the work we’ve put in (in whatever form that resonates with you) is done (for now) and the time to enjoy the fruits of that labour is here. And for me, the most pressing and frustrating question is: why must I have so many chapters in my book of life?

Let me digress for a minute (hopefully it brings me back to my original thought, there must be a reason it’s popped into my head). I used to have this post it note at my desk that said:

Let Go.

(On a related note, the one right now says: Keep your eyes on the prize and hold on! in case you were wondering).

At the time, that post-it note was a reminder for me to do my work. The kind of self-work that allowed me to stop thinking too much about things. The work that got me to stop believing I had to control every situation. The active letting go of people I loved, things I believed about myself and others that weren’t true or serving any purpose, and the idea that life was always going to be perfect. That little bit of sticky lined yellow paper was the work I had to do every day to be able to move on from the “stuck” I found myself in. And it worked. There were days that I didn’t register that it was there, staring right at me because I didn’t need the reminder. There were other days when I would look at it in a fit of frustration or despair and think: “right, that’s how I will get passed this”. But as the days and weeks and months wore on, I no longer needed that little piece because letting go just happened. Funny thing is, I don’t remember taking it down or throwing it away. All I know is that letting go is part of my daily work. And so that note disappeared.

I sense that I need another post-it note. Just as LET GO allowed me to move to the next chapter, I need another catchy phrase to push me to the next one. I’ve done a lot of work – for me that’s mental, physical, emotional – and it’s time that it has shown me what it’s worth. My gut tells me another chapter is near, I need my mind to remind me how to get there.

What are the post-it noted chapter titles of your life?

“Nobody can bring a good man down”

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the news lately, you’ve probably heard a lot about the changes to Canada’s immigration policies. As a matter of fact, it’s become such a hot topic, that the Globe and Mail has just published a series entitled “Our Time To Lead: The Immigration Answer”. One of the interactive sections on their website allows readers to answer: “Do immigrants help or hinder Canada?” Talk about a loaded question.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/time-to-lead/

Many of you may know I am in the midst of writing my thesis on the Alberta experience with Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs). Specifically, I want to know how the quality of life of people in Alberta who are here with “semi-skilled” temporary work visas (think Tim Horton’s counter attendants, hotel room cleaners, airport bathroom cleaners, Wendy’s food preps, factory workers, Lilydale chicken plant workers, etc.) is impacted by their immigration status in Canada (and lack thereof, really). If you don’t know, there are over 300,000 TFWs in Canada today. This number is practically double than people who come to Canada as landed immigrants.

Here are some functions and characteristics of the TFW in Canada today:

1. TFWs are guest workers. This means that they have come to Canada solely on the intent of filling a job vacancy. About 15 years ago, this translated to a majority of “high-skilled” workers – in the tech industry, engineers, etc. Today, the majority of TFWs are deemed “low or semi-skilled” and fulfill the jobs that “Canadians don’t want”. This does not mean that they are in fact low-skilled workers. Just like many immigrants before them, these people are educated, skilled and often worked in management level jobs in their home countries. Their desires for ‘better opportunities’ usually push them into the de-skilling TFW program.

2. Those deemed “low or semi-skilled” because of the job they take to come to Canada are kept temporary in Canada for the long-term. This skill designation means that they have very very (I can’t stress that enough) little chances of applying to become landed immigrants. Recently, the Alberta government introduced the Alberta Provincial Nominee Program. This allows employers the opportunity to sponsor one (1) TFW in one (1) location per year. Many employers (think Tim Horton’s, Wendy’s etc.) hire dozens of TFW per location. What ends up happening is that TFW work long hours, too many days, through sickness and questionable workplace conditions in order to come out as “employee of the year” in hopes for that golden ticket. Imagine what that does for a workplace atmosphere.

3. The program is meant to be “temporary” meaning that its full intention is to bridge labour shortages in the short-term in the hopes of a stabilized labour market in the long-term. TFWs usually sign 1 to 2 year contracts. This is meant to be a ‘win-win’ situation – TFWs come to Canada to make a wage usually higher than in their home country, make a good load over the short-term and go home, meanwhile Canada wins by filling “temporary” labour shortages. WE are told that this a temporary arrangement. Ironically, I interviewed people who have been here between 2 and 7 years. Employers keep their temporary contracts rolling. TFW keep signing because they think if they prove themselves worthy for long enough, they will stay. There is nothing temporary about it. And in the meantime, these workers are in Canada, as ‘guests’ for years (they can not bring their families with them as TFWs)

4. Life in Canada? Away from children and spouses, living two, sometimes 4 to a bedroom (In Ontario, a local union found 30 workers from Thailand and Mexico in two three-bedroom houses), no access to language training, lack of job mobility, depression, anxiety, exposure to exploitative work situations, etc. (These are the things I heard directly in my interviews).

A discussion about the TFW program in Canada – heck, our immigration programs in general – are obviously complex, messy, political and for many, emotional. I haven’t even cracked open the door in this little blog posting. What I hope, though, is that you understand that there are 2 sides of the story, instead of hearing and believing only one. And you know point #4 above? I am not talking about one of those “backward” places across the ocean. I am talking about the people in our backyard. As a matter of fact, I am talking about the person who will serve you your morning coffee and bagel tomorrow.

What I do know is this, that human perseverance is awe-inspiring. That people will put up with almost anything in order to attain what most of us take for granted. The stories I’ve heard not only provide me with the stuff I need to tell the story of the Canadian immigration system, it has provided me with my own perspective.

The following quote comes from my interview with Malcolm (pseudonym), after he told me his story of isolation, separation from his family, a racist employer, crooked immigration recruiter, and being middle-aged, once a manager at a hotel in his home country, now flipping burgers and mopping up puke on the bathroom floor.

“I’m tired of thinking of all those concerns, you know. Maybe I’ll just continue to prove my worth, you know. Nobody can bring a good man down. Just work. Try to deliver what they pay you, try to be as worthy as you can. I’m just trying to be, I’m just going with the flow.”

As if what he is doing isn’t enough. Apparently to be Canadian, it isn’t.

“If you’re loved by someone…”

“If you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected.”

From the song “Head full of Doubt/Road full of Promise” by the Avett Brothers.

 

Here it is, upon us once again. On the eve of the big V-day, I will not be wondering if I will get flowers or chocolates tomorrow. Instead, I will be wondering if the eve of next year’s V-day will be the same.

I try hard not to get caught up in life’s short-comings. Usually, I am successful. Unfortunately, like a mother’s day without a mother, or a father’s day without a father, a Valentine’s day without a valentine reminds us that we are without. And in a society that celebrates couple-dom over single-dom, this ‘without’ gets amplified. Don’t get me wrong, individually, we feed into this. All one needs to do is troll the dating sites to see that people are always looking for their mate. When life happens and this search isn’t happening for you, then all V-day does is remind you of your failed attempt.

Here’s the thing: this blog is not a ‘woe-is-me’ attempt at making myself feel better about being single. It is certainly not trying to demean the day meant for people who have been lucky in love. By all means – celebrate! For my coupled friends, I hope that you do rejoice in the fact that you have found someone who will be a witness to your life. Someone who has chosen you as their mate. Who has said “I will see you for your amazing-ness and your short-comings”. I certainly hope that you don’t wait one whole year for a Hallmark-sanctioned day to do this, but instead rejoice and cherish your lover every day, in the smallest and biggest of ways.

Perhaps this blog is about reaching out to my single friends in my own version of a V-day message. Maybe not just in solidarity, but in a reminder that we can, at the same time,  be individuals who are perfect and flawed and still find that person regardless. Our aim for perfection should not be done in the name of finding love. Nor should we attempt at diminishing parts of our amazingness just so we can find someone who won’t be threatened by who we are. The search is a hard one, and probably doesn’t get much easier. But as we grow older, so does our self-assurance. And this self-assurance will always be our benefit, and (let me remind you) never a deficit.

Tomorrow, I will choose not to see V-day as a day of deficit. For who am I to deny that I have more love in my life than I could ever ask for? Why should I feel rejected when I have a crew of people in my life who throw their love at me in many ways? Love is love, my friends. It comes in many forms, and its basic and most important feature of feeding people with energy and care and intimacy is not reserved for a select few. Love comes at us in many ways, and so tomorrow, this is what I will celebrate. Because if I am without anything, it certainly isn’t love.

 

 

 

One year

I woke up this morning with an anxious knot in my stomache. I scoured my thoughts to try to understand the root cause of such an off-putting feeling first thing in the morning. Thoughts came in and out of my mind and none of them really registered. Until I realized that today marks one year since my father passed away.

I’ve often told people about the physical and emotional reaction I had the morning I  found out he had passed away, even before I had heard the news. When I called my brother to see why he had called me the night before, my heart started racing, my breathe became laboured and I started sweating, all before he had even answered the phone. The blood in my veins – the blood that holds my father’s DNA – just knew and it sent me the warning signs before the words left my brother’s mouth on the other end of the phone line.

What amazes me, is that a full year later, my mind still hasn’t settled with the fact that my father is gone forever. It’s like the mind doesn’t really understand – like it makes no sense – that one minute someone is here on earth, and the next minute they are gone. And not gone on a long holiday where you’re pretty sure you will see them sometime in the future, but just gone. This does’t really elicit an emotional reaction – I think my emotions have reckoned with the fact of his departure – but cognitively, I am still confused.

I sometimes get stressed out that he’ll be forgotten. That the years will pass and that I’ll forget about my dad. I find this ironic given the life he led which always weighed on my mind – his health problems, his lifestyle, his poor decisions that I never understood. While he was around, he was always on mind. I was always waiting for the next call from him, from the hospital, from the police. And when he was around, all I wanted to do was forget. And now, that’s my biggest worry.

What I want to remember is that my dad tried his best, I think. As an adult, I came to realize that my dad struggled with many things – depression, addiction, mental health issues – and as an adult I understood the behaviours he exhibited. As a child, I couldn’t understand why he was the way he was, but as an adult, I knew that these were the things he contended with. And he did try his best.

Most importantly, he made it known that he loved me. He made it known he was proud of me and that in his life, my brother and I were his greatest accomplishments. This is what I will choose to never, ever forget.

I am forever walking upon these shores,

Betwixt the sand and the foam,

The high tide will erase my foot-prints,

And the wind will blow away the foam.

But the sea and the shore will remain

Forever.

-Khalil Gibran, 1926.

This is what democracy looks like

I have been caught in many conversations lately about the Occupy movements. People ask me my what I think about their efficacy, intent, motives, etc. Some people want to know my own personal opinion about it (I sometimes feel like this is a double-entendre question, sort of like I am being sussed out as one of ‘those’ protesters). I find myself amused, annoyed and generally disheartened at these moments. Mostly because I want to say, open your eyes, people. This is about the world calling out the doomsday that is quickly approaching us.

Instead of getting into the demands, motives and reasons behind the movement (if you want to partake somehow in what’s going on, the first thing you can do from the comfort of your own home is get yourself edumacated about what’s going on in the world), I want to take this opportunity to say that I believe there is an awakening at a deep societal level to what is really happening to us sometimes without our knowledge and most often with our complicity.

Ask yourself some of these questions: Don’t understand why you don’t have enough money at the end of the month? Worried about your parents social security when they retire even though they worked their entire lives? Thinking about the school your kids attend and the quality of their education? Curious about why several levels of government choose privatization over keeping things in the public domain? Wonder why there is talk of mega prisons? Etc Etc Etc.

If you are quick to jump to the conclusion (which is the biggest critique lauched against the movement) that these concerns are all over the place and lack cohesion, then you, my friend are part of the problem.

I understand that today we like to make sense of things in the same length of a facebook status or tweet. We want things simple, sanitized and positive (who wants to hang out with a debbie downer anyways). But here’s the thing. The state of the world is as it is because of a complex mix of profit, greed, bottom dollars and individualism. We can’t boil this one down in 180 characters or less.

Before you judge those tent-dwellers and shit disturbers, remind yourself that democracy is not necessarily about going to vote every four years. Democracy takes shape and form in  many ways, and history has told us that real, signficant and transformational change happens when we step outside of the ‘democracy box’ that has been defined by those in power. The Occupy movements are acts that are challenging the taken for granted democracy that has been set up for us (which really has gotten us to the place we are) and they should not be judged by those of us who aren’t camping out, but instead appreciated for their willingness to raise these issues that are affecting all of us. Even you, who thinks that none of this pertains to you.

I’ve been watching a lot of videos these days that are helping me along in these amazingly challenging and inspiring times. Maybe they will help you along too.

Want to see normal folks break free from the moulds of democracy meant to silence us: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbmjMickJMA

Want to see in the future and understand where Canada my find itself if we continue down its current path: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qI_P3pxze5w&sns=fb

Want to see why taxation is important and isn’t about “taking all your money away:

People. Tomorrow we may wake up and the rug has been ripped from right under us. This is not being dramatic. This is being real.

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