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Toronto (Canada)

30, May 2003

New Canadians - Looking for a Job
M. M. Afrah

The doctor is a refugee from war-torn Somalia who’d landed the day before (1992), taking a walk in Toronto, a city of about five million souls. A sign in the window of a very expensive shop says: “We are proud to be an equal opportunity employers.”

In many parts of the world, we are shunned because we are Somalis, people from a country where the bodies of human beings (American helicopter pilots in this case) are dragged in the smoking ruins of Mogadishu (Black Hawk Down). We must be barbarians who still live in the Stone Age, they would say behind our backs.

But the signs in shop windows and newspaper job advertisements reassured the doctor that would not happen in Canada, the land of equal opportunity employers, the land of immigrants and refugees. There are even a number of war criminals from the Balkans and other eastern European countries, who found an Eldorado in Canada. But these are not visible minorities and easily blended with the mainstream Canadians and Americans with forged documents.

All our Somali doctor had to do was find a job in the medical profession.

Every new comer knows what that’s like. You name the city and the ritual of employment is the same. At least, it was the same in peacetime Somalia.

Phase One, you hear about a job in one of the government ministries in Mogadishu, and you do a little researching around. You find out anything about the Minister or the Director General, especially if they have relatives and who they are. You find anybody in your family who knows the guy behind the huge desk—or even better, who did him some favor in the past.

Phase Two can be expensive. If the Minister’s wife collects gold jewelry, your wife finds rare examples of the stuff and pays visit to His Excellency’s spouse at her posh villa. If a diploma is needed you buy it. You hire actors, popularly known as Afminshar to be your references. And presto you got the job before you know it!

Phase Three is the interview. And let’s get it clear; you must speak the Minister’s or the Director General’s dialect to prove that you are a homeboy. And you must never look like somebody who needs the job. It’s like with the women; when you let them see you need them, you’re finished. You’re a corpse.

But that was in Mogadishu and this is Toronto. A few months pass. The Somali doctor writes and rewrites his resumes. The mere quantity of envelopes he buys makes him a respected citizen in the neighborhood, but not in the job market.

The doctor was a successful and highly respected surgeon in Somalia until the devils took over his country and his Digfer General Hospital in 1991. One day a former colleague told him that Canada is the place to be. Shouldn’t be tough to find a job, the former colleague told him over spiced Somali tea at Nairobi’s Eastleigh, dubbed as Little Somalia.

But he was without “Canadian experience.” He wanted to have it, but potential employers would not give him the chance to prove himself. Even at a time when there was a cry for more doctors in Canada and the US. However, one good news is that his wife gets a job as office cleaner by night and babysitter by day. But for him, so far, there is no chance. And no chance, either to apply the Mogadishu experience in Toronto. Do research on the Boss? Find a family member he owed a favor? Not a chance.

Too bad, Afminshars and gold obsessed wives are rare around here. You can’t even buy a forged diploma in this spin city.

The right jobs exist. At least, he found the right ads in the bulky newspapers (more than 300 pages!). But they demand “Canadian experience” and people with citizenship documents—and he is just an undocumented Landed Refugee from war-torn Somalia. He left his burning home in a dash, leaving everything behind, including his documents and cash, in the smoldering wreckage. Document issuing authorities in the country ceased to exist in 1990 and all you can manage to get is a forged Somali passport at Garissa Lodge in Nairobi of all places. You had no choice; you must possess it, because you want to get the hell out of the African quagmire.

Still, he tries. His faxes slide toward their destination numbers faster than the SARS deadly virus slides downward on the population without discrimination. At least that’s the only equal opportunity in life!

Nothing happens and so he continues to drive his taxi, or watch the Hollywood movie “Taxi Driver” in his spare times. Except once, when he gets a call immediately after he sent the fax. But the guy is just mad because he sent him eight full pages and so his fax paper is used up and he is expecting an important contract.

“Equal opportunity?” he told me in a fit of irritation. “Whom do they think they are kidding?” he added and drove his taxi like he was in the Grand Prix.

What’s happening out there, in the minds of job advertisers? Examples of bigotry in North America against newcomers and what is termed as “visible minorities” are endless. And as sure as the sun rises each day a newcomer should expect a stream of prepared rejection slips from job advertisers and eviction notices from landlords. The same goes to book publishers and newspaper editors. One aspiring African author decorates his bedroom walls with rejection slips from big-name publishers.  But that’s another story at another time.

By M. M. Afrah ©2003


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