The communities where I used to live were quite homogeneous with regard to race and ethnicity. Although I have been open to people of different cultural backgrounds, the opportunities for such exchanges were limited in small Ontario towns.
Moving to a city that has over a quarter-million residents and that also happened to be one of Canada's top destinations for immigrants and refugees meant being exposed to a whole new demographic. We were struck by hearing conversations in languages other than English in public places, from public transit to the grocery store. On our street many near neighbours spoke English as a second language or had members of their households who did not speak English at all. An act as simple as bringing over a plate of cookies in order to say "Hello" was sometimes misunderstood and rejected.
With this new reality and a desire to make cross-cultural connections we enrolled in a volunteer program that matched us with another family new to Canada. We were to meet together regularly doing low-cost or no-cost activities in order to became acquainted with each other. We could help with practical problems ranging from how to use a fork to how to deal with telemarketers phone calls. Conversations about the differences between life in their home country and Canada were enriching for us and our children.
One of the first friends I made in my new city was another young mom who, with her husband, deliberately moved into a high-density neighbourhood to minister to its people. Rental apartments are the only choice for those who are just establishing themselves in a new country or who struggle with poverty. My friend and her husband determined to live out "love your neighbour" in this context, accepting and appreciating the different clothing styles, accents, names, customs and ways of preparing food. They learned to pronounce people's names correctly as just one way to respect and honour them. They set the standard for how I wanted to treat those who were of a different culture.
This friend had a Persian contact who was writing a paper in engineering. He asked her to read it over and make any suggestions to improve his work. My friend also passed the document to me. Little did I know that was to be the beginning of an unusual side business that has grown mostly by word of mouth. While I never claim to understand all of the engineering jargon or equations, I am somehow able to detect when something is awkward or missing the right punctuation. I say, "Insert 'the' here" and "I think you mean..." when a word is clearly the wrong one. Most of my clients are from an Iranian/Persian background. On the first day of spring, we exchanged greetings of "Happy Nowruz" (Iranian New Year).
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