I'm on a quest to understand what it means to be Canadian. And what better way, than through Canada's infamous chain, Tim Hortons!
I'm so thankful for my hosts who have been introducing me to some of my new Canadian identity, which has included Canadian icons such as Terry Fox and the Bombardier skidoo pioneers, to meeting the local female MP in the area, who advocates international women rights. How easy was that! No body guards or security and the meet up was surprisingly informal. And adjoining the government building is The Hatley outlet store, one of Canada's designer stores, started not far from here.
It’s Spring, but I’m still dressed for winter! How will I ever survive? Thankfully, the welcome hospitality of my Foundations For Farming family (the sustainable farming ministry I was with in Zimbabwe) has helped me feel more at home. And after the overwhelming populace of Toronto, I'm getting a taste of rural Quebec. Joining the pioneers of Foundations For Farming Canada in the annual Friendship parade, I got a foretaste of small town living. A time when the French and the English celebrate friendship? And comically a couple weeks before Quebec Day, a patriotic French separatist day? Who would have thought that my contacts would be in "New France". I had no idea how French Canada was until I arrived here. And now I'm getting used to being a minority within a minority - an English speaker within French speaking Canada.
What does one typically think of when one says Canada? Hockey... and maple syrup! I’m on a role to try out as many maple syrup recipes as I can and am excited to connect with my roots through Shooting for Glory, a story about the infamous hockey player, Paul Henderson.
And did you know that Canada burnt down the white house in the war of 1812! I never read about that in any American history book! Considering Canada only became a confederation is 1867, I guess the British can claim the glory for this feat, although it appears the heroism of a particular Native Shawnee chief helped install great fear within the American militia. Chief Tecumseh fought for an independent Native American nation, but was killed in battle before his dream was ever realised.
And then there is a modern chapter of Canadian history which made me equally as sad as proud. When everyone was turning a blind eye to the bloodshed during the Rwandan genocide, one brave Canadian peacekeeper remained to tell the truth of this tragic tale.
Roméo Dallaire, a Canadian general who was commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda rescued thousands, while his call for support fell on the deaf ears of the international community. Having spent his childhood in Montreal, not even two hours from where I presently resided, I was proud to know about this reputable French Canadian. Having observed an art therapist working with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder patients during my college years, it is encouraging to know that a man of such caliber and character has been advocating the destigmatization of veterans with PTSD. No one is immune to conflict trauma, but how does one heal? In 2012, I was in Rwanda asking that very question. There in the land of a thousand hills, I spoke with some of the most remarkable men and women I've ever met. It was truly the most life changing experience...
Undoubtedly, my time there had helped me on my own journey to reconciliation. Both mediation and neutral spaces were used in post-conflict reconciliation and helped decrease the fear of victim offender rehabilitation. Surely these tools could help me in meeting my dad for the first time in over 20 years? This and the knowledge that I had "family" in Quebec who could step in if I needed, and the blessing of a car, through Canadian friends I had met during my time in Rwanda. The freedom of navigating transition, the vastness of Canadian territory and future Toronto traffic, brought much peace of mind amidst all the unknowns. And talk about a small world! I reconnected with these friends in Zimbabwe just before I started my pilgrimage north, at a time when the theme of our annual gathering was focused on forgiveness and reconciliation. They just happened to be from the same town as my Foundations family in Quebec, and are hoping to set up a few hydro projects in Zimbabwe. Now that will be a sweet Canada-Rwanda-Zimbabwe collaborative!
Rwandans have stories to tell, but how do you forgive someone who has killed your family? Some know the answer to this question. As I visited the reconciliation villages of Prison Fellowship Rwanda and met men and women who had reconciled to the point of sharing a water pump, living as neighbours with their offenders and raising their children as friends, my experience really helped me gain perspective. In light of their victory over the pain and the past, surely I could forgive my estranged father for his offence against me?
But before I returned to Toronto to face the unknown outcome of father - daughter reconnection, I was thankful for a home in Quebec. I continued my introduction to the local area through visiting summer camps and a French mission hub, pioneered in 1948, the most amazing French immersion course in a Christian cultural context. Parole de Vie, equips believers for the mission field, whether Europe, Africa or even Quebec. Who would have ever thought that Quebec is known as the 10-40 window of North America!
Traveling through cottage country and the Eastern townships (not to be equated with African slums), one cannot help but enjoy the beautiful scenery. Vineyards, forests and farmland; strawberry patches not quite ready for picking; fields of flowers and roadside roses; historic houses, tea and lakeside picnics; farmers markets and a taste of hot chips and cheese curds!
What better way to try one of Canada's signature foods than at a rodeo in the home province of poutine. It was truly a unique Quebecois experience, especially with the combination of French speaking announcers and English country western singers. I love how there is a rodeo prayer before the event begins and with the danger factor involved, bull riders need every prayer they can get. My host is a real cowboy - a white African who met his Quebecois wife in the customs depot, while importing ostrich into Canada. When asked if he has become bi-lingual yet, his humorous response is always "Yes! She's French and I'm English."
As I was staying only half an hour from the Vermont border, I just had to make it down to the road where you can have one foot in Canada and the other in the United States! Thankful that I didn't have to cross the border as an illegal refugee, I always remember the words of a friend while navigating my US visa status - "If you ever get stuck, just flee to Canada. They allow you refugee status." It's true. Canada is one of the most generous intake nations for refugees and I recently read of a Zimbabwean family who crossed the border in search stability and found a home, in the midst of winter in Montreal.