I've always taken great pride in being Canadian. For a bleeding heart liberal, I can't think of a better country in which to live. Just the CBC alone would be enough to convince me that this is the best place to make my home!
Over this past year I've had the chance to see Canada through a new lens and now appreciate it with even more gratitude. Back in September, I had the gift of meeting a fabulous new friend. We connected at the U of W Graduate Studies Orientation and then found that she was in all of my courses this year. She was an International Student and had just arrived from Egypt (via some months spent in Kentucky) to begin her studies in Marriage and Family Therapy. I liked Mary right away. She had a great sense of humour, knew how and when to laugh, and came from an educator's background, just like me. As we got to know each other more, I discovered that Mary's partner, Jennifer, had also relocated to Winnipeg and that they had a rich story to tell.
Most of you will know about the tremendous political tension, conflict, and uprisings that have happened (and are still very much in process) in Egypt. Over dinner here one night, Mary and Jennifer shared their story of what it was like to live through the Egyptian Revolution as women in a place that was volatile, unsettled, and lacked security. Their story was full of fear, of loss, and of deep and abiding love for Egypt and the friends they had to leave behind. But it was also full of courage, commitment to each other (in a place in which their relationship made them vulnerable, afraid, and at risk), and determination to find themselves a home in which they could live free of fear.
Mary and Jennifer were essentially in hiding when they began the process of seeking a safe place to land. Friends of theirs who they learned to know and love in Egypt were now living in Winnipeg and quickly agreed to act as their sponsors as they applied to become permanent residents of Canada. It was a tumultuous time, full of confusion and a million other emotions. Egypt had always been Mary's home, and though Jennifer was an American citizen, her life and world was in Egypt as well and had been for many years. They wanted to live their lives together in the way they wanted to, and they knew that there were few options of places in which they could do that. Canada was one of them, and it seemed to be calling their names.
After spending some months in Jennifer's home state of Kentucky, the two of them made their way to Winnipeg and began to tentatively make a life here. Mary began her studies, and Jennifer began to work. They are the kind of people who open themselves up to you right away - sharing stories, amazing food, and their hope. They spoke with such gratitude and affection for their adopted home and country - comparing it to the difficult and dangerous world that so many of their Egyptian friends still found themselves in. I was discovering Canada through new eyes - as a place that was safe, accepting, and welcoming. I liked what I saw.
Throughout the school year Mary and Jennifer were going through the process of waiting to see whether they would receive Permanent Residency. Just this last week, on the day of our last class of the year, Mary was full of life and excitement as she announced that they had just received word that they would become Permanent Residents. There was joy, anticipation, relief, and expectation for what the future would hold for them. It was a night to celebrate!
We went out and toasted Mary and Jennifer after class - she was wearing her newly acquired "Manitoba" t-shirt in honor of the news she had just received.
As a few of us were walking together on our way home, our friend Donna noticed a rainbow in the sky - the ultimate symbol of hope. We got Mary to stand in such a way as though the rainbow was landing on her. It seemed only right as she was embarking on the ultimate journey of finding hope in a new place.
This last Sunday, Mary and Jennifer hosted a gathering of their friends an colleagues at Bird's Hill Park. We shared a feast, played some games, and learned a little about each other and how our stories intersect. There was great joy there. Gratitude that they had found their home and their home had welcomed them to their rightful place, just as they are.
I'm thankful that my country makes room for people who need a safe place to land.
I'm grateful that Mary and Jennifer landed close to me.
Happy Canada Day!