August 15, 2007

A poem by Nico Hofferd -

Broken English

Fadwa is from Lebanon
When she was 13 she attended
A cousin’s wedding and as she danced
Her fate was being sealed

Her future husband chose her from
A bevy of dancing girls
Like a sweater on sale in a window
That one, and it was done

By 15 she was married
By 16, pregnant
By 17, in a new country, an now:

She is 32
4 Children, no education
Lives in subsidized housing
Her husband left her for a 20year old
Her home across the sea is being bombed

She comes to see me, beaten down
We are the same age and she says
But look at you! With your great job!
I struggle to explain to her
The concept of privilege, and how
The starts in her eyes are the most brilliant I
Have ever seen

Gareck is from Sudan
His skin, the colour of deep, rich, fragrant coffee
The tribal markings across his forehead
Animate when he speaks
I watch, transfixed,
Waiting for jewels to tumble out

He lived in a refugee camp for 12years
He says “Ethiopia” and it sounds like “Utopia”
He tells me of the day he ran for the border with a friend
The day they made their escape
The day…….he was shot

As a child I was told about the starving children in Ethiopia
I knew nothing of the children being shot trying to get there

Me eyes are as wide as saucers
And if possible, my skin a lighter shade of pale
And he laughs – no – giggles at my expression
He says, “it was only my wrist, no problem,”
He says, “see it works fine!”
And he raises hi right hand – his RIGHT hand –
And wiggles his fingers to show me that it does, indeed, work fine
But I am staring at the flexing tendons there,
Like marionette strings that exist in his shot,
Hollowed out
Wrist; like someone took an ice cream scoop to it
No problem, he says, it’s no problem

Harjeet was sold to a man of upper class for $30,000 US dollars
Okay, not sold, we know it as ‘dowry’
Her parents thought it was a good match, the best match
He, a successful businessman with a new life in Canada!
A huge home in a city with a vibrant Indian Community!
Friends! Family! A beautiful new way!
His broken English must have sounded like poetry

They have a son, now
A huge home in Silver Springs – far away from the Indian community of Rundle
She is not allowed to take public transportation
She is not allowed to learn how to drive
She is not allowed to learn English
She Is not allowed….
When she protests
She is beaten: By him, his mother his Sister

The Candian government allows no sponsored immigrants access to social programs unless they follow requested protocol to break the sponsorship agreement

She calls 911 and they send burly, white policemen who don’t speak Punjabi and
All she can do is cry.
And they say:
Call again when you have something to say

Muhammed is from Iraq and he sits in front of me, hunched over
Holding onto his cell phone as if it’s a holy, religious artifact
Tell me how you feel about the US in your country, I say
Making conversation, no idea of the impact
It starts a trickle, becomes a waterfall

His jaw is set and he sums it up neatly: We need the
Americans there, he says, we need to there for stability or Saddam's people
Will annihilate everyone. The entire country in mass graves
But they – the Americans, the Bushes? – They are the ones who put him there in the first place
And these things are not so easily forgotten

There has been no electricity there for years upon years, he says
We have nothing, We save at our meager jobs for generators
For power, to get ahead slightly, to make our wives happy
To care for our families, ourselves
It took me years to get one
The first time the line to my generator was cut, I thought it was an accident
I thought someone ran over it
So I fixed it

The second time, and men with guns showed up
To scare my wife and sister
The third and final time, my 6year old nephew disappeared
We never saw him again
This was years ago
I never tried again
Power is not worth it.
Is POWER worth this?

My country is in ruins. My beautiful garden of Eden –
Iraq is a beautiful place – or was,
My home: It is shredded and in ruins
All for Saddam. All for big oil. All for big American deals.
And now they are there, waving their flag, saving us
And we need them

He goes silent and finishes signing his papers
I am silent too, trying to imagine Canada in ruins, Canadians in mass graves
And suddenly…I understand why his thumb has worn a groove
In the back of his cell phone.

We all need something to hold on to.
We all think those things we thought we could never have are holy;
Especially when they can’t be the things
We really need


We had a small gathering in Nico's memory a while back and we took turns reading passages of this poem. We all understood a little more, the beauty and intimacy she was able to see and apply in her every day life. Perhaps that was her lesson to some of us, life keeps moving, you either embrace it or you don't. Those who don't, don't sparkle with the magic of hope.

After working as a student advisor for a few months now I see some of the hardships our immigrants go through not just when they come to Canada, but TO come to Canada. We are blessed in so many ways to live where we live. Like Nico says, can you imagine a bomb ravaged Canada? Can you imagine being scared for your children? Not because the news said some serial molester moved into your neighbourhood but because if they go out you may not ever see them alive again, not being able to buy a loaf of bread or drive your car when you want to? Can you or could any of us imagine the tragic loss that people have been burdened with yet still find that glimmer of hope to carry on. Something better is coming for anyone with hope, you just have to work for it. Anyone that says or feels that they don't have any hope will never experience that magic people have felt that keeps them from quitting on their dreams.

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You've done it now Danger Dan!!!