Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Oh Canada, I Feel Fortunate to Call You Home

Another Canada Day long weekend is upon us, and for me this holiday is always a time to reflect on the good fortune I have received in life simply by being able to call Canada home.

I could just as easily have been born and raised elsewhere, in a less ideal nation. My mother was born in Egypt and grew up in England before my grandparents packed up everything when she was a child and moved across the ocean to Canada.

As a first generation Canadian on my mother’s side, I have always been very aware that the place of my birth is little more than a fluke, and a good one at that.

My appreciation for this country skyrocketed in my late 20s and throughout my 30s, as I spent a decade in my former career doing an extensive amount of travel. Over that decade I found myself on five continents and more than 25 countries. Some I visited just a time or two, while other places like Russia and the United States I have spent a significant amount of time. Having visited 41 of the 50 U.S. states, I have seen much south of our border, and my time in America when tallied up amounts to more than three years of my life, though it was mostly one week trips at a time. Russia is a country I travelled to every other month for two weeks at a time for a number of years, and my experiences there really drove home how fortunate we are in Canada. If you think our governments are dishonest, and our law enforcement agencies are ‘gangs with badges’, I would suggest spending some time in Russia, and then let me know how you felt when a police officer demanded the equivalent of one hundred dollars for no reason other than to leave you alone and move on to the next victim.

It wasn’t until my first trip to India however that I fully realized just how fortunate we are here in Canada. I had seen poverty before of course; in most every country there is some level of poverty to be found. But during my first trip to India, as soon as I walked out of the airport in Mumbai I knew that the trip would be life-changing.

Poverty was everywhere and it was surrounded by wealth. Glistening and regal skyscrapers that looked down upon absolute slums was new to me, as was a half dozen children, many disabled in some way (often intentionally I later learned), rushing the car every time it stopped at an intersection begging for rupees.

It was heartbreaking to witness, and even more heartbreaking to realize that, had I emptied my wallet of every last Canadian dollar and given it to those who begged, it would not have made a bit of difference in the grand scheme. The poverty I saw in my two trips to India was different than the poverty I encountered in places like South America for example, and I think largely because I learned about India’s caste system and how it relegates generations to unrelenting poverty, but also because it was so pervasive. Poverty was the norm, not a tiny minority.

In other places around the globe it wasn’t poverty that was the primary concern, but rather personal safety. In places like Turkey, and in parts of Russia and the former Soviet Union, you could feel an unfamiliar tension. Human instincts can sense danger, and in places like that those senses were in overdrive.

Fortunately I have never visited a war zone, though I have visited areas after a major conflict, and it can be soul crushing to see entire areas obliterated leaving nothing but rubble.

In Canada, I don’t have to fear bombs dropping in the night, I don’t have to worry that a corrupt law enforcement agency will burst into my home for an ‘inspection’ at any moment, and I am free to travel where and when I want with nothing restricting me aside from mostly common sense laws.

Of all the places I have visited, Canada is one of the few places that I always feel one hundred percent safe. Certainly the fact that it is home can make one feel safer by default, but in other places such as Holland or Germany I always felt the same sense of safety, while in places like the United States, or Kazakhstan, Turkey, Russia, or Venezuela, I was rightly concerned about my personal safety.

I love this country because of all of the things I don’t have to worry about. I love this country because we recognize the value of a solid social safety net, and though we can certainly debate its adequacy, we at least ensure that everyone in this country has access to education, healthcare, and a number of government-funded services aimed at ensuring that none of us can fall too far though the cracks. Though of course some do, and I think one area in which we fail is in dealing with mental health issues; there are always things to improve.

I count myself fortunate to be a Canadian, and though I have had the good fortune to explore this planet perhaps more than most, there is no country in which I would rather live.

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