September 13th, 1996

20 Years Later

September 13th, 1996.

With cereal box paperwork, 5 kids waddling behind him and another in his wife’s arms, my father made a decision that would drastically change 8 lives.

With 40 years of life packed in 12 suitcases, and not enough cigarettes to get through the 10,000 km journey across the globe, we began the trek to a new life.

My father was a labourer. For over 20 years, he worked endlessly at the Port in Kuwait, building himself up to a Manager. When Iraq invaded Kuwait during the Gulf War, my mother was in labour, with me, while my father was on the other side of the country avoiding the chaos with the rest of my family. He knew what this all meant for him. As a non-citizen in Kuwait, his job was instantly on the line. See, in Kuwait, a citizen-ship is a symbol of status; it signifies security and to get that security, you really need to be connected through generations.

When the war broke out, non-citizens we’re being laid off across the country to make room for citizens. As a well-liked, hard-working and socially sharp man, my father made it to the last cuts before being let go. With 2 kids in junior high, 2 kids in elementary and another getting ready for his first day of primary, he was left with only one choice to guarantee a better future for his kids… Move. My uncle had already made the journey to Canada months earlier with his family so convincing my father was not a difficult task.

Getting out of Kuwait was no issue, but as we stood in London’s Heathrow Airport waiting to board the plane to our new home, I could see the lack of nicotine taking over my father’s patience. He stood in agony and distress as the flight attendant intently starred at our passports. As minutes dragged like hours and the crowd of airport officials and doubt grew around our paperwork, the impatience grew within my father.

The plane had fully boarded. The pilot stood at the gate waiting for the final word from airport officials. My little sister shrieked in my mother’s arms while the worry of not making it kept my father motionless, simply shook.

“It’s your choice but I’m leaving so decide, are you keeping this family as your responsibility or are they coming on this plane?” asked the pilot, thin with patience.

With the crying baby and 5 teary-eyed children standing in front of him, the airport official said one thing, “Go.”

As children, we didn’t fully understand the severity of the situation. We didn’t even know what an immigrant was. All we knew was that on the other end of that plane ride was an opportunity; a chance to become anything we wanted to be with no restrictions. Our future was a mystery but the options we’re infinite.

September 13th, 2016. Halifax, Nova Scotia.

It’s been exactly 20 years since we landed in Halifax. I wish I could say I knew what it was like back home but I’ve never been back. Hell, I’ve never been further than New Hampshire but the experience of being an immigrant is something I’ll never forget.

Those first days in first grade, not knowing a soul in the room, let alone the odd lines on the wall dubbed“letters”. A foreign language and a foreign land kept me quiet in my seat, motionless.

I was moved down a grade due to my lack of English and was warmly welcomed into a classroom with more unfamiliar faces. The girl I was seated next to was asked to help me get adjusted. I would point, she would help me pronounce it. To this day, she is my best friend.

Two innocent 5-year-old kids, with nothing in common but their grade and age, somehow found a way to communicate and stick together for over 20 years.

Now, 20 years later, I sit here trying my best to celebrate the nearly 7,300 days of living and learning I’ve experienced in this beautiful country, but I struggle. I struggle because I know that not every immigrant trying to make it in their foreign countries have that innocent 5-year-old to help them get adjusted.

I struggle because this day means more to me than just the day my family’s life was changed.

September 13th, 1996.

The major news story when we arrived in Canada was the death of Hip-Hop’s greatest icon. Coincidentally, Tupac has always been a lifeline for my brothers and I, so as I try to reflect on my life and where I’ve been since walking on Canadian soil, I can’t help but take a moment to remember what his poetry truly meant to my life.

The first time I heard Tupac was on BET in 1997. “Changes” changed me.

“ I got love for my brother, but we can never go nowhere unless we share with each other. We gotta start makin’ changes. Learn to see me as a brother ‘stead of 2 distant strangers. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. How can the Devil take a brother if he’s close to me? I’d love to go back to when we played as kids but things changed, and that’s the way it is.”

Tupac was a man that used his platform to better the world. He made it his life goal to educate and bring people together through his talents and to this day, he continues to do that.

September 13th, 2016.

In the last 20 years, I’ve learned to fluently read, write and speak English and not so fluently read, write and speak French.

I’ve made friends with CEOs and became best friends with the cleaners.

I’ve been high school Student Council President and I’ve been kicked out of university classes.

I’ve celebrated blossoming marriages and watched first hand as marriages collapsed.

I’ve been debilitated by mental health and I’ve overcome it.

I’ve been across this country, from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Vancouver, BC.

I’ve met a crayon box of personalities and some of the most genuine people you could meet.

I’ve fasted through Ramadan during the Halifax summers and I’ve woken up to presents from Santa on a chilly Christmas morning.

I’ve experienced what it’s like to be an immigrant and I’ve become accustomed to being a local.

I’ve wished for change and I’ve stood by waiting for it.

We’ve all experienced life. We’ve all had our ups and downs. We’ve all felt unity and have all witnessed divide.

Each individual experiences life in their own way. Each individual understands things in their own way. Each individual has their own understanding of how life is supposed to work.

What we all have in common is the constant desire to see this world become a better place. We each want to bring out the best in people. We each want to see our concerns addressed and the inequalities we witness rectified. The question is, why does it constantly feel like change is impossible?

How is it, that after 20 years, we still continue to face the same issues Tupac addressed in 1996?

How is it, that being an immigrant is less acceptable now, than it was 20 years ago?

How is it, that someone’s right to protest clouds the conversation and reasoning for their protest?

How is it, that social media followers dictate your social status?

How is it, that getting it in is more desirable than getting to know someone?

How is it, that even though we all experience it, mental health continues to lead the way as the leading cause of death in youth?

How is it, that we still look at race as a factor?

How is it, that we still can’t accept people for whom they are?

How is it, that everything that made us whom we are is forgotten?

How is it, that dividing people is easier than bringing them together?

How is it, that we still struggle to understand that “love is the answer”?

Over the years, I’ve openly discussed the darkness that has clouded my life but I’ve realised that sharing that darkness may have helped some find the light but it’s not doing enough to change our mindsets. What we need to take advantage of is the commonalities we all have amongst each other. Everyday I meet new people and cross paths I’ve never crossed and the one thing I’ve learned in my 20 years as a Canadian is that our similarities are what connect us. PRETTY SIMPLE, RIGHT!? If we all took a moment to simply connect with someone we’ve never connected with, we could all learn a little more about not only the world, but ourselves as well.

September 13th, 2016.

20 years ago, my new life began. 20 years ago, Tupac died and with it, one of the greatest poets and minds we’ve ever been blessed to witness.

This day is a constant reminder that life could’ve been much different. That no matter what you’ve been through and where you’ve been in your life, at the end of the day your role on this earth is to make a positive change and leave the world in better shape than when you found it. Anything you’ve experienced and anything you’ve felt can be related to someone whom you’ve never connected with.

In the tech-savvy, insta-connected world we live in, our biggest strength is the ability to learn, love and appreciate each other for our similarities and our differences. Let’s all take advantage of that strength and become better people by making a positive change in not just our lives but in the lives of those around us. Let’s bring back the lost art of conversation.

Be that innocent 5-year-old and help someone else get adjusted and connected so we stop feeling alone and start feeling love.

In honour of Tupac Amaru Shakur:

“ It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.
Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live
and let’s change the way we treat each other.
You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do
what we gotta do, to survive.”