“I can’t believe he said he was lucky.” My 16-year-old is processing our cab driver’s story. Wasim is a native of Libya and he, his wife and young son found refuge in Canada five years ago. He says he was lucky, extremely lucky.
My husband, a master at drawing strangers out, started talking to the man driving us from the hotel to the airport in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We learn early in the trip how long he has lived in this beautiful city, where he is from originally and how he has adapted (mostly) to the climate in his new country.
As we cross the bridge into Dartmouth our driver says, “Let me tell you a short version of my story.”
The revolution in Libya started in his hometown. At the time, his wife was unable to breast-feed their 6-month-old son. Their town was under siege for 10 days and the infant was in need of milk. “I could not leave my house. The baby was hungry. We cooked rice, drained off the water and fed it to our son.”
When the fighting briefly subsided, Wasim faced an impossible choice: stay and risk being killed or flee and risk being killed. The family chose to leave. Neighbors told him that 45 minutes after they fled their home, a bomb flattened it.
“We were lucky,” he said.
“Long story short,” he continued, “I applied to come to Canada. People said there was no way we’d get accepted, but we did. We were so lucky.”
“We got to Halifax and I had $700 dollars in U.S. currency. That was all. I told the taxi driver to take us to an inexpensive hotel and the next day I went out to look for an apartment. The woman at the hotel told me where to go and there was one apartment left, but they wanted proof of income. I told the landlord what I had and I promised, even though I didn’t know how I would do it, I would pay every month on time. You know what she did? She gave me two months free. Two months! Amazing. She even got us a crib for the baby. We were so lucky.”
The landlord helped him get a job at a local grocery store. Wasim spoke Arabic, Italian and English, had a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and had worked on airplane engines in Libya and Italy. Even so, he said he was so lucky to get that grocery store job.
His engineering credentials weren’t recognized in his new home so, in time, he went to a local university and got a second master’s degree. His wife? She just graduated from that university, too, with a master’s degree in chemical engineering. They now have two children. Wasim is applying for positions in his field, but continues to drive a cab until he finds a new job.
My husband asked, “Do you have a faith community to support you?”
“Yes,” Wasim replies. “No one has enough to help with money but they encourage us to go to school, to keep going. They connect us with people.”
“You are Muslim?” my husband asks.
“Yes,” Wasim responds.
The conversation continues as Wasim tells us about the aircraft we are likely to be boarding, his hopes to be working again in aviation, his love for math and calculations, how his son now likes hockey.
I ask if he likes it in Canada and he says, “Oh, yes, we are very lucky.”
Wasim lost everything he owned. Left his home, culture and country with only $700 American dollars. He is underemployed and has been for five years. He has no idea if, despite his experience and education, he will ever work in his field again. And yet, he has no doubt that he is lucky.
Wasim is from Libya. He is Muslim. He is a hardworking man. He loves his family and his new country. Canada is lucky to have him. I only wish he lived closer. Perhaps he, and others like him, could if our immigration policies were about people instead of politics, real stories instead of perceived threats, or maybe even love instead of fear.
Grace and peace,