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Capital Voices: ‘I’ve never had a voice since I came here’


Gihane Abboud.
Bruce Deachman / Postmedia

In anticipation of Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations, the Citizen’s Bruce Deachman has been out in search of Ottawans — 150 of them — to learn their stories of life and death, hope and love, the uncommon and the everyday. We’ll share one person’s story every day until Canada Day.

“When I left Egypt in my early 20s, my father told me, ‘Always stay loyal to your birth country, and always stay loyal to the country that’s going to adopt you,’ and I followed his advice.

“But I feel I have no voice. I’ve never had a voice since I came here. I work, I learn, I went to University of Toronto and earned two degrees — I already had a degree from Cairo University. But I’ve never had a voice. I don’t know why. Maybe when I came, immigrants weren’t as valued and celebrated as they are now. When I came, some people called me importée and asked if I kept a camel in front of our house. But now people wouldn’t say things like that.

“But I worked. I worked for the government of Quebec, teaching immigrants. I taught at Royal Military College Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. And about four years after my daughter moved to Ottawa, I moved here, too, around 2010, and taught French at private schools. And now that I’m in Ottawa, I teach French part-time to federal employees.

“I’m so close to Parliament, so close to the government, so close to everything, but I think that MAYBE if I was 30 years younger and just came to Canada I would have a voice. But now, with the politics of aging … I feel like I want to say so much, I know so much, I learned so much, I lived so much and I know politics, but I don’t think anyone cares. Maybe I was naïve when I was younger and couldn’t impose myself. Maybe it was my fault. Maybe I was too shy.

“I remember one professor saying I wasn’t humble enough for an immigrant. I remember a professor telling me, ‘You deserve an A-plus, but I’m giving you an A-minus to be fair to the other students.’ I remember people not talking to me, not answering. I remember some administrators in meetings … I would raise my hand forever and they wouldn’t call on me, and my colleagues would ask me what I want to say, and they would raise their hands and say it for me. And one of my supervisors once told me, ‘People will always know, looking at you, that you are an immigrant.’ I don’t know what she meant, but anyway … I could write books about it.

“And now I feel I’m getting older, of course. It’s youths who count today.

“Most of the time I tell myself it’s my fault. I didn’t push. I didn’t put my foot down. But I wish someone in the government would hear me. I see we’re getting older, I see about medication and hospitals. Sometimes I’m afraid to go to a hospital, to die in the hospital.

“I wish I could go to a meeting where the prime minister is, and stand up and say, ‘What is it that you’re going to do? What is your politics with us, people who are aging? Listen to us.’ No one knows about me, but I’m not the only one. If I could, I would talk for old people. I would talk for old people and humanizing care for old people. Making people not afraid to finish their days and die at a hospital.”

— Gihane Abboud, Gloucester, June 12, 2017.

bdeachman@postmedia.com



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