In the front row of that specific English class, there are a woman from Hong-Kong who avoids speaking and who barely uses her eyes to look at another human being; four Chinese women seated side-by-side who never exchange a word; then a man from Afghanistan, another from Iran and two Iranian women. Those last four have no difficulty talking and laughing during the classes. Their corner of the world is chatty, joyful and attractive.
The second row shelters a quiet, beautiful and wise Sudanese doctor whose friend it would be great to be, almost invisible Asians (probably from China, Vietnam, and Korea) not worth talking about since they learn quietly and politely; and other people who, as well, do not speak often, smile sometimes and acquire knowledge silently.
Who can forget the Francophone learners? Their accent is unique and they speak French as soon as an opportunity arises. You cannot fail to notice them, even if you want to. They are black. Every single black person in that school devoted to adult learning is a French-speaker. Some can claim that the reality is more complex. They would ask: “what about this Eritrean man who does not speak French?” He is black. No, he seems to be black. He is nearly black; but he is not. Therefore he does not count. You must wonder what “nearly black” means. If you want an answer, just google Eritrean and you will discover that Eritreans do not look like Western African, the Francophone African, the black African. Their nose is less big, their lips thinner and their features delicate.
Let’s come back to that English class with all those people from all around the world or nearly. Their atypical and humorous accents as well as their uneven knowledge of English are unexpected distractions that could be called fortunate distractions. Indeed, with the windows behind them, the students, or whatever they are called (surely there is a more politically correct term to label them), have no chance to admire a singing bird or to give new names to startling flowers. Of course, there are pictures on the walls. However after one week, those pictures are as boring as a golf tournament. So the students cannot escape the new vocabulary, the thorny grammar and the mistakes of their “schoolmates” or their own mistakes. They have to listen and to learn which is not a shocking idea. After all they come every morning to that class for those precise reasons.
Therefore, every student somehow improves his or her English. However, if you are an incurable romantic woman with dreams too big to be fulfilled and, if you have a passion for storytelling, you would spend time observing your “school comrades” and spying out their secrets or dreaming up new lives for them. New lives they can’t complain about since they are not aware of.
However, there are lives that do not need to be imagined. You can see them in their owners’ eyes. You can, without mistake, know what, when and where they do what they do. For instance, you can definitely know that this little one is a Chinese secret agent and not a wide-eyed Chinese student who is trying hard to know more about the Western culture and to become bilingual. You will categorically know that some do not come there to learn English: they come to laugh, spend time or to be sure to receive some government subsidies. You will unquestionably know that some come there by despair because they have no choice. You will know. Yes, you will and you would be fond of that English class, even if all Spanish students seem to avoid it.
Shortly before he was assassinated in 1994, Mexican presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio admitted he had a dilemma. The long dictatorial reign of Colosio’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which had ruled Mexico since 1929, was under threat from two increasingly potent opposition groups: the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). While the PAN and PRD represented genuine political philosophies, the PRI stood for little more than amassing power — and holding onto it in the most corrupt manner possible. Colosio knew the PRI had to bring something more meaningful than fraud to the ballot box.
So Colosio took a cue from Bill Clinton, a Democrat who had recently won the U.S. presidency with a centrist approach. “That’s where the PRI is going to position itself,” Colosio told me in an interview then, “as the socially progressive but more economically responsible alternative.” Colosio…
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What do a president, a rebel and a champion have in common? Nothing much except if the first is the new president of Egypt, the second the former Irish Republican Army (IRA) commander and the third, the tennis player who has won the most Grand Slam tournaments.
So what do Mohamed Morsi, Martin McGuinnes and Roger Federer have in common? Not their age, not their faith, not their fame… One is 60 years old, the other 62 and the last, 31 years old. One is compared to a Queen of Pop when the others are almost ignored; almost. One is a Catholic, another is a Muslim and the other doesn’t talk much about his faith, after all he is only a tennis player, not an activist or an almost martyr. Whatever their differences, they are “formers” and made the headlines last week.
A former prisoner
Mohamed Morsi is the new president of Egypt. For the first time in its history, modern Egypt will be headed by a freely elected civilian. He succeeded Hosni Mubarak as president of the Arab Republic of Egypt. Member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi was jailed by Mubarak as well as held many times by his state security men.
He has promised an “Egyptian Renaissance with an Islamic foundation”, a moderate Islamic foundation. However, are the secular forces that fear an Islamization of Egypt and the Christian minority ready to trust the first president of the Freedom and Justice Party, the party the Muslim Brotherhood created after the 2011 Egyptian revolution? Is the international community ready to trust the former member of the Guidance Office of the Muslim Brotherhood?
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Egypt’s largest Islamist party, won 235 seats, about half the seats, in the Egyptian parliamentary election that the country’s highest court declared invalid. That is to say that Mohamed Morsi’s election is not a complete surprise; especially as his principal opponent was Ahmed Shafik, a former general who served as Mubarak’s last prime minister. 51,7 per cent of the voters have chosen the Brotherhood for a change and against the military.
However is it really a change as we know that the Muslim Brotherhood advocates a return to the Quran rules as foundation of Egypt? Are Egyptian citizens going to move from a situation of non-political choice to a situation of non-religion choice? Only time will tell. What time has already told is that the Muslim Brotherhood has been involved in violent acts: they used violence to fight for their beliefs and were violently fought back by Egyptian rulers. Time has already told us that the Kuwaiti branch of the Muslim Brotherhood opposes the right of women to vote. Time has told us that Sayyid Qutb, a member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is the one who developed the doctrine of Jihad. However, there is a chance that Mohammed Morsi will live up to his pledges and work with different groups that “express the largest national consensus”. Only time will tell.
A former rebel
Better known but not necessarily more appreciated, James Martin Pacelli McGuinnes is a hero to some, especially among Irish nationalists. The Sinn Féin, -the political wing of the Irish republican movement-, politician is the current deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and a Member of Parliament (MP). Like all Sinn Féin MPs, he resigned from the House of Commons while continuing on as a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
As the Séin Féin candidate in the Irish presidential election in 2011 and a former member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, an Irish republican paramilitary organization whose goal was to separate Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom, he represented a more romantic and more appealing figure than Mohammed Morsi as he fought against the British “imperialism”.
He is said to have participated in many bombings and killings in his fight against London. However, as Sin Féin’s chief negotiator, he led the talks leading to the Good Friday agreement, a 1998 agreement between the majority of Northern Ireland’s political party and between the Irish and British governments that was a major step in the Northern Ireland peace process as it ended The IRA’s 30-year armed campaign against British rule.
This week, he is going to meet Britain’s Queen Elizabeth for the first time. He will be the first senior figure in the ex-IRA that the Monarch will meet. This visit will be her first announced in advance visit in Northern Ireland since the 1960’s.
Does this meeting mean that Sinn Féin is ready to abjure his claim for a united Ireland? Or are they only playing the game for peace’s sake? Only time will tell. What time has already told us is that Martin McGuinness was ready to do whatever it takes to reach his goal. Time has told us that he would deny his past if he has to. Time has told us that a united Ireland is his goal and that he will not settle for less. Time has also told us that he was ready to compromise for Ireland’s sake. However, there is a chance: a chance that the long-required referendum will be held and McGuiness would be the first president of a United Ireland or a chance that Sinn Féin will renounce its fight and the United Kingdom will last forever. Only time will tell.
A former No.1
The last but not the least is one of the most-known and loved athlete nowadays. This Swiss professional tennis player is a gentleman who combines chivalry and talent. With a record of 16 Grand Slam Tournaments won, Roger Federer dethroned Pete Sampras even if he has only occupied the #1 ranking for 285 overall weeks, one week short of the record held by the same Pete Sampras.
There is not much to say about the current world No.3 tennis player. He is one of the best, if not the best tennis player of all-time and his recent defeats will not change it. Maybe it is just time for him to bring his tennis career to an end. 2013 would be an excellent year: 10 years after Sampras who was born 10 years before him.
He has nothing to prove. Time has nothing to say: he is already a champion. However, the tennis championship without him will never be the same, unless his natural and rightful successor appears by magic. Djokovic and Nadal are good but not as talented and as charming as him. He needs a natural successor as he was one to Sampras.
It is said that, even if he has not won a title since two and a half years, he is the one followed by the crowds at Wimbledon; young and old want a little of him: they barely notice the other players. He is the only one people want to see. He is the best but he dreams to wear the Wimbledon crown for a seventh time, tying Pete Sampras. The days will tell us. In more than one month, maybe less, everyone will know.
However, seventh crown or not, he will be the King of hearts. He is the King of hearts. No violence in his history, no political claim, only a gift for tennis and a heart to enable children to shape their future through a foundation that has already helped more than 47 000 children in Africa.
He is as different from McGuinness as McGuinness’fight is different from Mosri’s aim. Nevertheless, they have a lot in common: they are three men with three extraordinary lives and three extraordinary destinies; three men journalists talk about; three men who hold people’s hearts by their strengths or their weaknesses; three men who were, are and are waiting to become. Three “formers” and three “to be”. Time will tell us.
Life is sometimes, most of the time, unpredictable, especially for immigrants. They think they have figured it all out. They have plans. Then someone or something steps in and alters all their dreams. As a result, they try to find solutions. They elaborate other plans that seem unfailing, just as the seemingly unfailing plans of opossums.
Who really knows what an opossum is? Who can say “I saw an opossum yesterday near the window of my bedroom”? Who has a story, a real one, involving an opossum?
Could you imagine your friend Jack telling you: “Sunday, an opossum stole my food!” Or “You won’t believe it! An opossum just attacked me.”? Would you believe him? Would you not tell him that it was probably a wild cat or a squirrel that need to go on a diet?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, an opossum (or possum) is a “small American or Australian animal that lives in trees and carries its young in a pouch.” Opossums do exist. No one would dare contradict the Oxford Dictionary. For those who are not accustomed to opossums, let us try to put forward a definition. Despite of what the pouch may suggest, an opossum is not a dwarf-kangaroo. It is a small and “adorable” animal that probably possesses a lost kangaroo gene. It seems to look like a wild cat, an impressive wild cat with an imposing tail. If you desire to know more about opossums, try Google. It is sometimes the ideal tool to learn, even what cannot be learned.
However, we do not need more details. All we need to know is that they have plans and projects as the following story proves.
A sunny Sunday, Two friends, Abby and Chris, were on the highway 401, heading towards the east of Toronto. It was a special Sunday. Someone, somewhere, had decided long ago that all Canadians should celebrate something on that date. In an idealistic world, it would have been a day of rejoicing; a day to stay at home and enjoy good food and French wine with one’s family. However, as we live in an imperfect world, most of the people living in Toronto seemed to be out on that day and the traffic was worse than usual.
Abby and Chris were listening to old songs on the radio while wondering where all those rebellious people were going. By chance, Chris saw a dead animal in the middle of the highway. It was too big to be a squirrel and had the same color as a cat she once saw on a street or in Alice in Wonderland. She was therefore persuaded that she had seen a dead cat. That was without allowing for Abby. Abby knew it was a possum though there are none in the country she comes from. She had no doubt. She had probably googled it at some point in the past. Chris was at the same time skeptical and excited. She was excited to know what an opossum looks like: it looks like the Cheshire cat.
Then, she wondered what that opossum was doing in the middle of a highway. After a while, she understood. As you can imagine, this opossum was travelling. It was quite obviously on his way to visit its relatives. It thought it would be able to make it to the other side of the highway. It was a loving, caring and naïve opossum.
Decades ago, its family lived in what is now highway 401. When some desperately intelligent and cunning men decided that Ontario needed a new east-west highway, its family found refuge in the trees bordering the highway. Unfortunately, a part of the family found refuge on the north side and the other on the south side. From generations to generations mothers told the children the story of their family. Generations after generations, young adventurous opossums seize the opportunity to become acquainted with its nearly close family. Generations after generations, they die.
That last one did not listen to its mother. It thought it was clever. It had weighed every risk. It knew when there was nearly no traffic and somehow it knew that this Sunday, humans would celebrate something with their families. It thought they would stay home. After explaining to its mother that its plan was perfect, it decided to cross the highway. What it did not know was that Canadians always go their own way. They do not celebrate and stay at home when they should. It did not know that highway 401 is the North America’s busiest highway. Poor opossum: it had no access to Wikipedia. That’s how dreams die under the sad or indifferent gazes of car occupants.
The dreams of millions of immigrants who crossed one or two oceans to become acquainted with success, were persuaded that they had weighed all the risks. They had wiped away their mothers’ tears and, with a smile, had promised to come back with impressive news, colossal wealth and profound happiness. Then a truck named System hits them and destroys their dreams. They attend the funerals of their dreams and of their personality. They lay out, almost dead, under the sad or indifferent gaze of the passersby, long-time immigrants or born and bred Canadians, just like adventurous and audacious opossums.
By the way, according to Google opossums do not look like cats, even Cheshire cats. Maybe, Abby was finally wrong.
I have a dream
Being different is exotic, in a good way. It can be very attractive. However, most of the time differences lead to difficulties, conflicts and more. I am not talking about race differences, even if I could. Sometimes, language and cultural differences can be a source of troubles.
Have you ever heard of the Frazer report? If not don’t worry, neither had I, until January 2012. (If you knew about it before, just smile and shake your head but don’t say anything because I am sure you don’t know about On n’est pas couché). This year’s report was about The Cost of bilingualism. It explains how offering French services are costly. Maybe you agree with it. I do as well. Offering services in one language is less expensive. Of course, almost everyone, everywhere feels the same. It is normal, desperately normal.
Being special has a cost. And Canada is special. It is bilingual, in theory at least. As is Cameroon. Cameroon is supposed to be bilingual. However in practice, 80% of Cameroonians are Francophone and the other 20% needs to speak French to have a place in the society, to be considered as normal.
According to an article that I read almost by accident weeks ago, In Cameroon, English-speakers feel Francophone chill. Cameroonian Anglophones don’t feel like equal partners with the Francophone. They feel despised, ignored and excluded from governmental jobs. I feel compassion for them.
I am a French-speaker in Toronto and I don’t feel like an equal partner with all my Anglophone counterparts. Do not misunderstand me. People are great in Toronto, for the most part. They are friendly, nice and respectful. However when it comes to getting a job, a real one, I need perfect English: an English better than that of the most Toronto’s English-speakers. No recruiter cares for my perfect French or my possible extraordinary skills. No one. I am Francophone. I have a handicap. I need to prove that I am able.
Oh, I don’t complain. It could be worst. I could be living in a country where a ministry can declare that all civilizations are not equal, where the majority claims that the other are inferior to them; where being different is the worse you can be.
I used to live in that country. It is a great country. To it belongs the most beautiful city in the world. To it belong very humanist people. But being different there is not a good choice to make. Why choose to be Arabic, black or/and African? Who can be so stupid? But let’s come back to Toronto.
Everyone finds my accent cute. Everyone but those who count. I wish I were a chameleon or only a language chameleon. Being black in Africa ( even if it is not always the best choice to make ) and white elsewhere; speaking French in France (without an African accent), speaking French in Montreal (without a Parisian accent); speaking English in Toronto (without a French accent or even a British one) or Chinese in China (with a Chinese accent); being a man when I need to and a woman when I should. If only I were a chameleon.