December 24, 2004 – Strangers in a foreign land

I woke up at the fraternity house and went out for breakfast at the nearby Perkins with some of the brothers. Perkins was a popular spot for University students due to its proximity to campus, never ending refills of ice tea, and the fact that it was open 24/7.

After breakfast, I went to pick up Fatima from her apartment to take her to my parents’ house. Fatima was originally from Sierra Leone, but had escaped the brutal civil war by seeking refugee status in Canada. My sister met her while volunteering at a support group for newcomers to Canada, and they became friends. Since then, Fatima has been an adopted part of the family, and she comes to our family dinners.

I had met Fatima a few times before, usually with my sister or at my parent’s house. In the past we never really had much in common. However, after living in Japan for a year, I found that we both had some similar experiences living as a visible minority in a foreign country. We both look different from many of the people around us, and we have both been treated differently because of it. We have both been surprised or confused by the local culture. We both have some experiences with the different climate in our new countries. Also, we both don’t speak the local language well enough (yet). Japanese is my second language (third if you count the French I learned in school), and English is Fatima’s third or fourth language.

It’s about a 75 minute drive from Fatima’s apartment to my parent’s house, and we talked the whole time. By the end of the drive, we had become good friends. It’s amazing what finding a few things in common can do to bring people together, even if they have very different backgrounds and situations.

In the evening, we stuck to our usual family tradition for Christmas Eve – a big meal featuring tourtierre (French Canadian meat pie), and then midnight mass at the Catholic church. For the record – midnight mass in Portage la Prairie starts around 9:00pm. It was my first time to see the new church building, which was finished while I was teaching in Japan. The new building replaced two 50+ year old smaller church buildings in town. It was a nice modern church, but I did kinda miss the classic “big stone church” feeling.

After mass, I finished the evening with my tradition of wrapping the last few presents frantically and sneaking them under the tree. I love Christmas!

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