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An extract from a new book by M.M. Afrah to be published in Canada in the winter of 2002.



The plane gained speed on the bumpy runway and Keynaan kept glancing back expecting a half-truck mounted with double-barrelled 37mm anti-aircraft guns pursuing the plane or a mortar round hitting it sent a shiver up his spine.

No one was in sight.

The Russian pilot was as eager as his terrified passengers and put distance between them and the hellish airstrip. The crowd at the airstrip was little more than grey shapes against stark-white backdrop of well-compacted sand dunes and a cloudless blue sky, the colour of Somalia's national flag.

He sat back to think about his two-bedroom on Wellesley Street - trimmed lawns, cool, leafy maple trees, red town houses with white-columned front porches and flowers of every colour and description. From his balcony at night he enjoyed gazing at the city's skyline. He particularly enjoyed gazing at the imposing CNE Tower and the Sky Dome nearby.

Now in this stuffy Soviet-era aircraft, Toronto seems to beckon Keynaan: "WELCOME back to Toronto, welcome to our midst. See how polite and friendly we are, how tender and easy. There are no warlords (only landlords), no military dictators, no militia, no guns and no dangerous escapades. We overcome almost everything here, apart from occasional racist slurs and denial of Residence Permits to some visible minorities, like the undocumented Somali refugees. But they are never hungry or lacked shelter and medical care. We are logical here, rationale.

"It is all right to think about racism, but it wasn't all right to issue racial insults in public. After all, Canada is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. We are a nation of immigrants. Stay put and you'll have your day, eh!"

Cities like Toronto in Ontario and Vancouver in British Colombia are the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Almost every nationality is being represented there. In the streetcars or in the subways one heard fragments of Armenian, Greek, Italian, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Amharic, Somali, Urdu, Russian, Vietnamese and a dozen of Chinese dialects, including Mandarin and Cantonese.

Drug trafficking and violent murder are low compared to the south of the border where violent crimes are so prevalent that they are no longer newsworthy and are sometimes relegated to page six. But the police in this country of 30 million souls are often accused of racism against visible minorities.

It is an affluent society, but one day Keynaan watched a figure collapse inside a bus shelter. A derelict in a tattered overcoat, and there are many hundreds of them in Metro Toronto, curled up inside the bus shelter, his boots protruding from the open door.

Next day the mainstream newspapers said the unidentified white male was frozen to death. Paradoxically, there was a life-size poster advertising sizzling Maggi Macaroni con carne on the side of the bus shelter showing a street scene of Toronto with the CNE Tower in the background.

In their letters to the editor, most Canadians said these street people are useless to themselves, and to anyone else. Many of them refuse to go special shelters for the homeless because of the strict curfew - doors are closed promptly at 10 p.m. and no alcoholic beverages. And, of course, no smoking. Most of them are alcoholics and chain-smoked.

Whenever there was a police crackdown on street people and squeegee kids, critics retort that the police are engaged in wide spread, unlawful violation of constitutional rights of anyone who happens to be poor and on the streets. There is even a vocal organisation that represents the homeless. Margaret Atwood, the legendary best selling Canadian author said that in Canada you could say what you like because no one will listen to you anyway.

Fresh from war-torn Somalia, one day Keynaan observed the ever-present panhandlers (beggars) in the fashionable Bay and Bloor Streets. "Buddy, can you spare a dime or a quarter?" They hiss. They look exhausted, their faces drawn and their eyes sunken and colourless. But no one seemed to notice them. Passers-by simply avoided them as if they were lepers.

Prostitutes are politely called sex workers and their clients are johns, despite vigorous protests from people with that name. Homosexuality is legalised. A popular story in Somalia (authenticated by this author) says a Somali camel herder had committed suicide by stabbing himself to death with his own dagger when he was told that homosexuality exists in many countries! When this author recently repeated this story to a gathering of White Canadians, everybody was flabbergasted. They said that the man must have been out of his mind! Evidently they do not know the Somali people.

Constituents are ridings. Burglary is home invasion. And illegal drugs are controlled substances. Non-Anglos, non-Europeans are labelled as "ethnics". Economic refugees who sneaked into Canada by cargo vessels from China are referred as "gate-crashers" and "cue jumpers". Paedophiles in this cosmopolitan city are galore, alive and kicking.

Canada is the only country in the world with a Language Police. The Province of Quebec enacted controversial language laws that sought laws to free the French speakers from the majority of English Canada. Recent visitors led by Keynaan to the province were met with stony faces when they tried to speak English in a Montreal department store. They narrowly escaped from all the powerful Language Police. A storeowner was fined because his parrot greets customers at the door in English. Another shop owner was willing to go to jail over English sign because the Government Inspector said the French Letters must be larger under Quebec language laws. The prosecutor said the man has a history of reoffending and should be given a stiff sentence. He has become a cause celebre in English Canada.

Frontline defenders of the French language in Quebec are worried sick about the encroachment of English into their province. But the invasion of computer jargons and hi-tech super information highway in the world there's nothing much they could do to stem the tide. They even attempted to translate in French in vain.

To be continued.
By M.M.Afrah 2001 All rights are reserved

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