Guest poem sent in by Salima Virani
(Poem #1312) Ordinance on Arrival
Welcome to you who have managed to get here. It's been a terrible trip; you should be happy you have survived it. Statistics prove that not many do. You would like a bath, a hot meal, a good night's sleep. Some of you need medical attention. None of this is available. These things have always been in short supply; now they are impossible to obtain. This is not a temporary situation. Our condolences on your disappointment. It is not our responsibility everything you have heard about this place is false. It is not our fault you have been deceived, ruined your health getting here. For reasons beyond our control there is no vehicle out.
I only recently found out that recent south asian immigrants into Toronto are called "FOBs" or "Refs" by the first or second generation south asians who live here. FOBs means "Fresh off the boats" and Refs means "Refugees". It does not matter if you came into Canada under the independent category of skilled labour. If you have the slightest trace of an Indian accent and, particularly, if you're struggling as a new immigrant consider yourself a FOB. While I am angered by this for various reasons, I find that this poem by Naomi Lazard which actually alludes specifically to the FOBs (be they from Vietnam, India or wherever!) really does apply to so many recent immigrants, the skilled workers - the ones that have not crossed borders and entered into this country unlawfully (in boats) or pleaded sanctuary as refugees. When I read this poem, I am reminded of scenes from Bombay, of long lines of people with their hopeful faces before the US consulate in Breach Candy or at the visiting Canadian Consulate at Nariman Point. So many people, from all over India, who left behind their country with a dream of making it big in the west. People who dreamed of having a bright future here for themselves and their children. I see these faces now, in Toronto. It is always a humbling experience. They drive me home in their cabs or fill gas in my car at full service gas stations. Some serve me meals at restaurants and some have cleaned my room at the Convention Centre hotels where I am attending conferences. They are really no different from me. Had it not been for the financial stability and support I had from friends and family (on my own arrival into Canada) I could just as easily have been one of them. They see a fellow south asian and we break into conversation. It does not shock me anymore when they tell me that they used to be Civil Engineers, Professors, even Doctors 'back home'. These are the people who got lost in the conundrums of accreditation and gaining "Canadian experience" and succumbed to finding other ways to make a living. They came here with only a few hundred dollars and did not have the financial ability to go back to school and retrain. It's most challenging when they arrive here with a family. Accreditation is a luxury they can ill afford when bills have to be paid and mouths have to be fed. And I wonder if they now feel betrayed. I wonder if it they absolve the Canadian Government for all the lovely brochures that it prints praising the life in Canada, when all that they hear after their arrival into Canada is exactly this: Our condolences on your disappointment. It is not our responsibility everything you have heard about this place is false. It is not our fault you have been deceived, ruined your health getting here. I know that for these people there is a vehicle out - they could go back to their homes and professions. But, every one of them has always given me the same reason for staying here. "Our kids will have a better future here and they will have a better life here. We're staying here for them". A bit ironic then, isn't it, that these very kids will grow up and mock people just like their parents by giving them derogatory terms of reference like "FOBs" and "REFs"? - Salima Bio on Naomi Lazard Naomi Lazard is more popular for her translations of poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz than she is for her own poetry. Her own poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, the Nation, Haroers, the New Yorker. She is author of several collections of poetry: The Moonlight Upper Deckerina (Sheepmeadow Press, 1977); Cry of the Peacocks (Harcourt Brace, 1975 ) and Ordinances (Ardis). PS: I don't really know anything more about her - perhaps google would help those who want to know more.