Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Yazidi Community in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

On Monday I finally had a chance to visit a family who lives in the same city that I do. I had met Koulan four years ago, in January 2011, when I made an attempt to find someone to help me learn Kurdish before I went to Iraqi Kurdistan for the first time. I met a group of 7 women, all with different ways of speaking the language. That day I discovered that for such a small region, there were many dialects!

A few months later as I planned a Kurdish supper fundraiser, I remembered that K. had told me she made Kurdish bread in her Canadian oven. So she taught me and we spent an day making 40 large rounds of bread that added a lot to my meal.

Now this summer the news began to come from Iraq of the people being displaced by the violent, militant forces.When  I heard, via Facebook, of the Yazidi people fleeing Shingal and being trapped on the mountain I looked into the international section of our Winnipeg Free Press paper and saw nothing about it. So I sent in a news tip email and within two hours had a reply. I told the journalist that I knew of a community here in Winnipeg, So she contacted my acquaintances and the next day there was an article. This was published in early August in the Winnipeg paper.

(Sarah Taylor/ Winnipeg Free Press)
Nafiya Naso (middle) with her son Lavan, mother Koulan Fandi (right), father, Ahaz Jallo
 and her older son Maher

Now, at the end of September, my activities finally slowed down enough for me to meet with the family again. Nafiya and her family were at her parent's house so I was able to see Koulan, as well as Nafiya's young boys. The TV was on a satellite Kurdish station telling of the attempts to push back the militant IS forces. They translated some of the top headlines for me while shaking their heads at the horror of the situation.

Nafiya told me that their families are scattered and some have lost their lives. She is helping to lead the community here in Winnipeg (40-50 families) to plan a memorial service for the many people of their faith who have died in the last two months. She would like to raise funds at that event to aid the displaced people in Iraq. 

The family expressed gratitude that they were able to come to  Canada about a decade ago, but also helplessness at only being able to watch what is happening in Iraqi Kurdistan. Nafiya said, "It is not only our people. There are people suffering from all different faiths. We can't just think about the Yazidi people. It is not a religious issue. It is a human rights issue."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Living (and visiting).in Parkdale (Toronto, Ontario)-a good place to live?

A sign in Parkdale, Toronto

This summer I have spent some time  in Toronto on three occasions. One of the times  happened just this weekend. I had the chance to accompany my husband on a trip during which Toronto Tourism wooed church groups to schedule their large assemblies in Toronto (specifically the area near the airport). For these three days I experienced a lifestyle that is quite foreign to me, that of the more wealthy sector of society.

Breakfast Entre.

On Saturday morning I was eating breakfast with the group when one man asked if I visited Toronto very frequently. I said that I had just been here two weeks earlier, in a very different capacity. I told him that I had been staying in Parkdale. He proceeded to tell me that Parkdale was changing from a "bad" place to a very nice place to live. Young couples and students were buying houses and condominiums and making it a "good" place to be.

I sat there listening and feeling sad for the Parkdale that I had experienced just two weeks earlier. Now, maybe my perspective is a little skewed. I walked the streets during daylight hours and I did not see any evidence of some of the less pleasant aspects. But the Parkdale that I saw appealed to me- the life and activity and society of a place to live that is a huge mixture of all kinds of people.

On the other two visits  I stayed in the Christian Peacemaker Teams Aboriginal Justice Team's home in the area of Parkdale, west of downtown Toronto, and  that is quite close to Lake Ontario. The large house that my three colleagues plus two housemates live in is an old lovely duplex that was formerly the Catholic Worker house of hospitality. I have heard stories from my colleagues of visitors:  a homeless couple who lived on the porch for a period of time last summer, of racoons and little kittens or  the lonely CPT guests who drop in for a time to be with fellows of like mind . Some of these visitors have been rehoused quite quickly, others were invited to stay for a while until they were able to find suitable housing. Others made their way back to lives in other parts of Canada or the world.

This is a tiny taste of the Parkdale I experienced.. On my walks I saw a mixture of all kinds of ethnicities and cultures and ages and genders. I saw children spending out-of-school hours playing footfall/soccer together on the schoolyard, women in traditional Tibetan dresses carrying groceries home, and community gardens thriving beside a weekly vegetable market.

I don't know who lives in these apartments. But I did see of lot of Canadian flags- people making a new life in this country.

However, I witnessed one interaction that exemplified the village that Parkdale is, in the midst of a huge city. As I waited to cross Queen Street I spied an elderfy man walking slowly along the sidewalk. Another man met him and asked if he was going home. The first man mumbled, "yes, yes, going home".

"Then you have to turn around. Your home is that way". And the second man pointed in the opposite direction. "And (woman's name) is hunting for you. You need to go find her." He then turned the man around and sent him back up the sidewalk.

The second man then came to wait for the walk signal alongside me. I smiled at him. He said, "It sucks to have Alzheimers."

This is a place to live where every day you walk alongside new and old immigrants to Canada, old and young people, broken and not-so-broken people. I pray that this part of Toronto will not change too quickly to be a "good" place to live. Because, in my opinion, it is already a GOOD place to live.