February 25, 2016, Somewhere in the Carribean Sea – Many years ago, when I was managing Diversity and Inclusion for an organization, I asked my kids how they would identify themselves if asked. They immediately said, “Canadian”. They could not even conceive what a visible minority was; it was a term and concept that was foreign to them.
Fast forward to today. When I ask Sabrina what she considers as home, she has to think hard. Is home New York, where she has an address and has lived for most of the past two years? Is home Nairobi, where Sabrina and Afzal run Kidogo Early Years, and where each time Sabrina lands, she gets a “Welcome Home” from SafariTel, her Africa phone carrier? Is home Toronto, where Sabrina was born and has lived for most of her life? Nagib certainly thinks so — he recently got Sabrina a house key that says “Home” on it! Ever the diplomatic romantic, Sabrina tells us that home is where Afzal is. So that resolves that!
This week Shayne finds himself in various parts of India for business – Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore. And while he is definitely of Indian heritage, he finds himself a foreigner in India, not understanding the language and finding the culture fascinating. He still sees himself very much as a Canadian, although Africa is seeping into his veins every day.
This week, Nagib and I are on a cruise ship, the MSC Opera, for a vacation, and it is fascinating for us to see the different cultures and identities aboard the ship. There are many Canadians, mostly older and more women than men. About 80% of the passengers are from Europe, as the ship is Italian-owned. Included on board are 40 doctors from Europe who are part of a medical conference. The French are beautifully dressed – – a scarf here, a belt there, a hat that sits just so, an oversized bracelet. I furtively stare at them when I think they are not watching. The Italians are a giveaway because of the sweaters casually draped over their back and their beautiful shoes – and they really do talk with their hands! The Germans seem to be the most curious; initiating conversations (in a rather formal way) in the elevator. Most of the staff on the ship are a visible minority – from Indonesia, India, the Phillipines, Mauritius, and some from Ukraine, Russia and Poland. Almost all speak more than one language. Every announcement on the ship is made in 5 or 6 languages: English, Italian, German, Spanish, French and sometimes Portuguese. I’ve also noticed on our first day here that the Europeans tend to be rather comfortable with their bodies and show them off with impunity!
We love spending time with a couple from Quebec who are old enough to be our parents, yet young enough to be hip and fun and a little bit crazy! Now I’m constantly saying “mon dieu” while expressively raising my eyebrows! For breakfast today, we sat with a French couple – a Doctor who was born in Tunisia to French parents, and who has pioneered a sea salt medical therapy to cure a myriad of illnesses. His wife was born in Vietnam of French parents, and they now both live in France. Our dinner companions include a Chinese couple who operate a clinic in Toronto specializing in ancient Chinese medicine. We had lunch with a British mother-daughter duo who retired to Spain, and where they operate a bookstore. While on a tour through rainy Montego Bay, we ran into a man who was born in Kenya, moved to England, met his wife (who is Japanese) and they are in the shoe business. Every night we look forward to seeing a wonderful couple from Italy at the Sottovento Lounge where we take delight in listening to Sergio on his guitar singing songs in different languages. It is a cultural smorgasbord! Everyone seems to communicate with each other in spite of different languages, and I realize that for all our differences, we are all quite similar.
But I think identity is more than just cultural or where you live or where you are born or where you work It is all the forces that come together to shape the person we become. It is our experiences, our families, our travels, the thumb prints that different people have left on our lives, our successes, our failures, our learnings and our beliefs And the beauty about identity is that it is not static. We can expand our identity every day and become a richer and more vibrant version of ourselves. That’s an exciting proposition!