A good conversation can certainly speed an 85-hour bus trip along. On my annual 5,600-kilometre trek from Whitehorse to Montreal the Greyhound filled and emptied and filled over again, offering a varied array of seat mates. A young transportation engineer from Germany seeing the country by herself, a heavyset retiree bound for a family visit and a fellow heading off for a month-long yoga retreat are among those who shared my ride.
The spark for a longer conversation usually lies in the first few words spoken. Often the tone or a gesture will signal a willingness to continue. A new Asian immigrant heading out from one Prairie city cued an exchange as he settled into the seat next to me. With an insulated bag stuffed with naan bread, chapatis and curried dishes his wife had prepared for him between his feet, he told me that he had found a job, though well below his professional qualifications, within three days of his arrival in Canada last March. The job was an hour down the road, and with no car yet, this meant a weekly bus ride out and sleeping on the bare floor of a room provided for him by his employer, but he had work.
A Hindu immigrant shared the room with him. As a Muslim my seatmate ate no pork and his roommate would not touch beef. They compromised on chicken and vegetarian fare. They both experienced a not unfamiliar introduction to life in Canada. Their employer “adjusted” their pay periods so that it wouldn’t be necessary to pay them overtime. Other questionable practices surfaced as we talked.
Being taken advantage of as a newcomer is hardly novel; I shared some recent Yukon examples with him. Our focus then shifted to worker’s rights, labour standards here and what he could do if he thought he was being abused. He had to know that he had rights here and options to redress wrongs.
Early on he and his wife had found a Prairie mosque where they and their two young daughters could worship. This community obviously would help them adjust to their new lives in Canada. Next Wednesday he and his family will begin Ramadan, the month-long time of fasting for the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. It is a time for them to focus on their core beliefs.
In late May the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay, opened the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, by citing a long list of global human rights crises. Interestingly, though, Dr. Pillay turned her comments to the ongoing impact of global financial crisis on us all.
She noted that continuing economic stress “threatens a broad range of human rights across the globe. Access to decent and regular work, to social welfare and health care, and to affordable food, housing and water, as well as other basic human rights has sharply decreased. Since 2008, 114 million more people have been pushed below the poverty line, and 64 million jobs have been lost.
In other words, the impact of the crisis has not been borne by those who were primarily responsible for it but has been foisted upon those least able to absorb its costs: marginalized groups, the poor, temporary workers and all those who live paycheque-to-paycheque: persons with disabilities, older persons, the sick, migrants, and refugees. Thus inequalities have increased, undermining the fabric of society.
Over 20 per cent of humanity will fast during this coming month of Ramadan. It surely could do no harm for us all to spend some time, like them, focusing on our core beliefs. Maybe a global fast is in order, particularly for our government and corporate leaders.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.