Wednesday, July 06, 2005
Out of Africa
One of the things I love about my place of work (indeed, of Canada in general) is how very multi-cultural it is. We are a country of immigrants, and I love getting to know other cultures through conversations with people I run into or those I work with. I am fascinated by stories of those who have immigrated here, I suppose in large part because I can't imagine how hard it must be to just pack up everything and move to a completely foreign country, often one in which a different language is spoken. In my office alone we have people from Italy, Uruguay, Croatia, India, Guyana and most recently Burundi.

My new co-worker, whom I now call Miss Burundi has been subject to my usual interrogation that I give upon learning that someone is from another country. Where are you from? How long have you been here? What languages do you speak? Did you speak English before you came here? Why did you leave your country? Will you ever go back? Do you like it here? How do you like the winters? What don't you like? And so on...

I often like to read up on someone's country so that I can then ask more specific questions, and also because I like to learn more about other places. Geography has always been of great interest to me. So when I found out that my new friend was from Burundi (just outside of Rwanda in Africa) I began reading. In the morning I would walk into her office and strike up a conversation about what I had learned. One day we were discussing languages (the reason she was hired here is because she speaks fluent French, as is common in African countries, many of which are former French colonies) and how I have "language envy" of anyone who speaks more than one language. I told her I am desperate to learn Hebrew and her ears perked up and she said that she LOVES Jews. Well, you can well imagine my confusion at this statement.... Jews are not a particularly popular folk, and indeed, it's rare to find someone who professes to love and admire them! (in fact, she shook my hand when she learned I was Jewish!) She told me that the Jews helped bring awareness to the plight of her people who were being wiped out by genocide in her country. She said that she identified with the Jews as a persecuted minority and that she appreciated all that the Jews had done to help her people. This is something I did not know!!

Later that day I decided to look up the flag for the country of Burundi, another little thing I love to do. When I found it I could not believe my eyes; the flag has several stripes, and three stars. Stars that look exactly like the Star of David you find on the wings of the planes in the Israeli Air Force! Could this be a coincidence? I don't know but I have to admit... it made me feel like I had a little bond with my new friend, you know? Like we have a little something in common.

Miss Burundi and I also talked about my trip to Israel which she was sweetly supportive of and thought it would be a great adventure for me. I think so too, and I can't wait to share my own stories of distant lands....

(For more information about Burundi you can go here and here.)