I had just received a piece of devastating news and sat for 10 minutes, trying to process my emotions.

I texted my partner, told him I was sad about the news. He asked if I wanted to come over. It took me 30 minutes to say yes.

I booked an Uber. Thank god it was already so dark outside so whoever was driving me wouldn’t know I cried (or at least it would be hard to see that I did). And because it was already late in the evening, I assumed the driver and I would be too tired to start a conversation. I was hoping, as always, for a quiet ride.

We did the usual. I said hi, asked if the ride was for me, and then dropped the classic “How are you?” He responded with enthusiasm and likewise asked me.

“Your name is Fatima. Do you know what that means in Arabic?”

(I thought that a conversation about my name wouldn’t hurt. It wouldn’t propel a longer conversation either, so I went along with it.)

“It was actually my dad who named me. He converted to Islam years before I was born, so I know who he named me after.”

“Wow. That’s great!”

“Fatima was the Prophet’s daughter, right?”

“Yeah, she was one of his daughters. But she was the most cherished one!”

“Oh, so that means she was his favorite?”

“Yeah, she was his favorite. She was also Ali’s wife.”

I was expecting he’d be curious about where I was from, and when I moved to Canada.  And I was right, so to keep the conversation going I politely answered his questions. When he learned that I moved here in 2016, he was happy to tell me he also moved here six years ago.

“I’m from Syria. I came here as a refugee. Do you know Syria?”

“Of course!”

He started talking about his family, his children, and what they study.

“What about you? What do you study?”

“I study politics, gender, and history.”

“Politics? Wow. I hope you find the solution to our world.”

I just smiled. I wish I could tell him that I am not all amazing, and studying politics is not that impressive. Since the topic shifted to what I do in university, I was close to crying again.

I became very quiet. There was nothing else to talk about. All of the questions had been answered. There was a long pause before I finally asked, “Are you liking Canada?”

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have asked that. It was only perpetuating the myth that Western countries are inherently better. But I’m glad that he responded. “No. I don’t like it. … I came here not because of my own mind. Sorry, I hope you understand me. My English— it’s not very good. I came here because I was forced to leave my country. My country is a very beautiful country and if I had the choice, I didn’t want to leave it. You know Aleppo? Aleppo is very beautiful but they destroyed it. So many things to see there.” He proceeded to talk about the effects of wars on women and children.

“You know, I’m with the people of Ukraine. It’s not right what’s being done to them because that was my experience, too. But I’m hurt that [the] news don’t tell our stories the way they talk about Ukraine. Are we different from them? It’s always about Russia, and US, and China. But what about us? You understand me?”

You can tell he was hurt and angry, but he was very composed. He knew where to pin the blame.

“That’s why when you asked me if I like it here, I have to think about how I left my country. I’m 51 years old now— imagine the life I have to live.” Sensing that it had been an emotional conversation on his end, he switched the topic to Rodrigo Duterte. He initially expressed his support to the Philippine president, saying he liked the guy because of his war on drugs. I told him the reality of his draconian anti-drug measures: it was anti-poor, resulted in so many cases of extrajudicial killings, and exacerbated the culture of impunity in the Philippines.

“I also know about Corazon Aquino, and the president before her.”

“Oh, Marcos.”

“Yeah, he was a dictator, right? Were you born at that time?”

I laughed, “Oh, no! I was not even born yet!”

I was going to say that the dictator’s son is running for president, but we changed the subject back to Canada. “Do you like it here?” he asked. I said that it’s okay— nothing too amazing but nonetheless okay, and I do hate winter.

He laughed, “Of course, you don’t like it! Because you came from a country that’s— what’s the word?”

“Tropical!”

I was five minutes away from JC’s place, and it meant that he had to drop me off soon. It was time for goodbyes.

When we reached my destination, he thanked me and said he was very happy to meet someone like me. I told him that I will forever treasure the conversation that we had.

Was this the universe’s way to console me? What was it trying to tell me? For a short while, I had forgotten about the rejection letter from one of the schools I applied to for graduate studies. But after that interaction, I had a renewed sense of purpose.

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