A Somali Mom Wonders at Canadian Bounty – A Lesson in Thankfulness

by Sean Foster on October 12, 2013

With a toddler lagging behind to examine a worm and an infant sucking on a soother in his carriage, the tall Somali woman strolled through the sprawling neighbourhood park. The inground wading pool had been emptied for the season, although the telltale antiseptic odour of chlorine seemed to linger as an afterthought. My own kid, then about three, had a spiffy orange plastic pail, a green shovel and a blue truck. He was methodically filling the latter with sand, and pouring it out, and starting all over.

The October sun was high and bright, struggling to work up a heat in the early morning. A light wind encouraged the branches on the trees to shake off their leaves.

The Somali woman stopped abruptly in her tracks, while I eyed her shyly from the bench where I was overseeing my son. She surveyed the slide for a moment, and the colourful swings that creaked in the breeze. The newly paved tennis court was quiet. She looked at the fields of grass, clipped to perfection. She looked at the cloudless sky. For a moment, she appeared to stop breathing. Then she inhaled deeply. Under her breath, she said simply, and to no one, “Such bounty!”

Bounty. The word has an archaic, English-as-a-second-language ring to it, so rarely is it used in Canada. But from her standpoint, it was undoubtedly apt.

I didn’t know her. Nor could I imagine her previous life in a country where average per-capita income is about $300 and which had the dubious honour of ranking 165 out of 174 countries in a 2012 UN survey on world poverty. I couldn’t pretend to understand how it felt to live in a place ravaged by warlords and disease and malnutrition, a land where you could expect to live no more than half a century, if you were lucky (or, perhaps, given AIDS, if you were not).

Hey, it’s been a tough time in North America, too. The government to the south of us is deadlocked: everywhere, people’s retirement nest eggs are cracking open, aborted. The health care system is sick. The cost of gas is a pain. Our electricity bills are skyrocketing.

But this Thanksgiving weekend, the two words the Somali woman spoke long ago into the still, fall air stay with me. We Canadians have what my mother used to call Rich Man’s Problems. That we have any retirement income at all singles us out as unimaginably wealthy from the perspective of the larger world. So does having a health-care system. So does having health. So does having cars and the gas to fill them. So does having electricity. And we walk through lush and verdant parks daily, without giving a second thought about having had the impossibly good sense to be born in the West.

It is, of course, all about context. Legitimate issues threaten us, too. We’ve all been waiting for the next assault, the next tragedy. We know it hovers there, in the dark corners, the monster in our overstuffed closets.

But the bounty. Such bounty. I thought about it that night as I tucked my kid into bed between clean sheets. I think about it now.

These days, in the evenings, I retire to the books and the TV and the music that soothe and relax me after a hard day of thinking. Sometimes, I open the fridge and take a sliver of cake to fill a minor craving. My back doesn’t ache because of penny labour. My sons have grown up and grown tall – hale, well-fed and secure. Their bodies have never been mottled with open canker sores. They’ve never heard the sound of gunshots in the street. There will be plentiful food on the table tonight and I will eat well and happily. I will not be too cold or too hot.

It occurs to me that the best I can do is to share the bounty with those who want to come to Canada. And the absolute least I can do is to be damn gracious enough to appreciate what I have.

This article was written by Rosa Harris and can be found at the below link


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