I met a man yesterday who represents so much of what I have want to believe about the world I inhabit. We are challenged daily with so many things that cloud our vision and it was so refreshing to run into someone who reinforced my belief about the connections that we all have and need to maintain as we build communities and support each other. I flew into another city for the day to attend a meeting and I grabbed a cab at the airport to take me to my meeting. My very affable cab driver introduced himself as Ali and we began a conversation covering a broad range of topics. (He arranged his driving schedule so that he also picked me up at the end of the day and our conversation stretched throughout both of the cab rides). I came to learn that he had emigrated from the Indian subcontinent over 30 years ago to the Middle East where for 25 years he worked in a highly skilled area of transportation and his wife also held a professional position. Over time his personal and professional contacts advised him to move his growing family out of this part of the world and to come to North America. It took 6-years for the immigration process to be complete and he was able to bring his family to Canada. He and his family lived and worked in Eastern Canada for 3 years and for the past 3 years he has lived and worked as a cabby in this large western Canadian metropolis.
Ali is articulate, passionate, and talks with great love about the value of family and community: not just his own but with a desire to be a permanent and contributing member of the larger Canadian community. He indicated that he and his wife are doing what they must in order to offer the next generation a better life. I suppose this is the typical immigrant story. He talked about so many immigrant professionals who, with deference yet with pride and belief in their future, willingly work long days in less then ideal conditions relative to their professional backgrounds in order to build a new world for themselves and their families. Ali’s smile, his curiosity about the English language usage, and his genuinely engaging personality opened a small window into a part of our Canadian fabric that I might otherwise have moved past without a second glance. As we chatted he asked questions about the words I used, what they meant in context, and how he might be able to use these words as he spoke. He asked if I could suggest ways for him to improve his English so that he felt more at ease as he worked and engaged in his daily life. He talked about his children attending university and how their worlds were changing the dynamic of his family and throughout all of this I was briefly invited into a part of our broader Canadian home and shown a world we might talk about but one I have not engaged in this way before.
I am a fifth generation Anglo-Canadian with only faint whispers remaining that give any hint of life being carved out in a new country. I know no different – everything about my ancestors is just words and blurry, age-stained photographs. What a pleasure spending a few moments with an engaging gentleman who, although admitting to the physical toll that 12 hours a day sitting in a cab is having on his body, says so with no apparent remorse or despair about life in his new home. I am sure there are many immigrant stories that run the gamut from success to much less than success but for a few moments Ali invited me in through this serendipitous encounter and I am richer as a result.