I was born and raised in the prairie province of Saskatchewan, Canada, and emigrated to the United States of America almost twenty years ago. According to some, from their vantage point south of the 49th parallel, I left utopia. And I would agree, for some it certainly is, but like all places, Canada has its problems. What I enjoy most when asked why I left the great white north are the arguments that invariably erupt when I go about answering that question.
My point is not about life in Canada being better or worse than life in the United States; its that I marvel at the ignorance and arrogance of those who have never lived in Canada yet insist on telling me what life is like there.
I love Canada. Parts of it are incredibly beautiful, and I feel very comfortable with the people and culture. I am proud to be Canadian, but I choose to live in the United States, and I am very proud of my adopted country as well. Neither, however, is Utopia.
I say all that to say this.
Two afternoons ago, I was happily banging away on my keyboard at a local Coffee shop when a woman walked in looking, with a clearly distinct purpose, for what turned out to be a place to plug in her computer. She found what she wanted at the table next to mine. Trendy coffee shops are notorious for providing limited personal space between tables, so we were compelled by convention and good breeding to smile and say hi, and a conversation broke out.
Her name is Moniro Ravanipour and she is a writer. She has published many novels, short stories and has even written screenplays. She was born and raised in Iran. She writes in her native tongue of Farsi, and her work has been translated and published around the world. She told me about where she was born, what life was like at that time, and how it changed when the country’s leadership changed. She is known as a women’s rights advocate, which is defined differently in much of the Middle East than it is here in America. Her books are banned in Iran.
I have met and talked with other people from Middle Eastern countries and have learned from them, but I didn’t tell Moniro what living in Iran and the Middle East is like. Instead, I used what I’ve learned to ask relevant questions so we could have a more meaningful conversation.
I discovered that we have differing political and religious views and seem to share little in common beyond the coffee shop and writing, but even with that, I am nowhere near her level. Yet we were fascinated with each other and had a wonderful visit.
I believe it was because we listened to each other and humbly asked questions because we wanted to learn something.
I don’t care to change her mind, and she could care less to change mine. We just want to understand each other. Neither of us is afraid to learn from each other even if it’s contrary to what we choose to believe. We may not agree on many things, but we do respect each other, and from that, I expect a great friendship will emerge.
In the end, she and I will learn a great deal more from our time together. Think about it, people with differences respecting each other, maybe even enjoying each other, despite those differences. No being offended or claims of being marginalized, no name-calling, no hatred, just the freedom to think and believe what we choose to think and believe without persecution.
Imagine a place like that. What America was intended to be.
She left Iran because you can be killed for thinking that way.
I think that freedom is worth protecting.