In the midst of winter, I desperately need a reminder that there is sunshine and warmth out there in the world. Clearly I didn’t grow up in Canada – or my choice of comfort food today might have been mac and cheese or hot chocolate. But for me, on this winter day, it was passion fruit. Sometimes I crave tropical fruit so much it hurts. I have followed my nose clear across the grocery store after catching a waft of guava. I willingly do battle with the armour of a pineapple to get at the good stuff inside. These are the tastes of my childhood and my choice for comfort.
I have been a stranger in a strange land many times in my life. Perhaps that is why I am so eager to welcome new people to our country and so excited about the Syrian refugees who are arriving in our small town tomorrow. I fully recognize that in my many journeys, I have been a stranger in a position of privilege and power. As a traveler, I have been a visitor with resources. As an expat worker, I have been part of the local elite with connections, comparative wealth and the ability to leave if the going got tough. And for much of my childhood, I was the visible minority in my community, but my nationality and my whiteness still gave me opportunities denied to many of my friends. I get that. But still, while I've never been a refugee, I think I can legitimately empathize with the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land.
I know what is it to be surrounded by new sights and sounds, to be overwhelmed by unfamiliar chaos, to feel powerless because I do not speak the language. I understand what it means to be completely reliant on strangers for everything while trying to figure out the lay of the land. I have experienced the sensory overload of a crowded airport full of people who look and sound nothing like me, as I lug all my personal belongings with me towards a new, unfamiliar home. And I can say with complete honesty that in every country I have visited, I have been welcomed by local people who were ridiculously kind to me, showering me with a sort of gracious hospitality that only the poor in this world seem to have truly mastered. If only we could figure out how to be that welcoming to the weary of this world!
This morning, when I heard that our new Syrian neighbours would be arriving tomorrow, we set out after church to put together a gift basket of treats for the new Canadians. At first I thought we could introduce them to typically Canadian foods as part of a cute care package. But then I remembered what it is to be a stranger in a strange land. So Russ and Henry and I wandered the grocery store aisles and gathered what we thought might be comfort food for a family who has had to leave their home for a new one, half a world away. We put together a basket of Middle Eastern treats – figs, pistachios, dates, olives, apricots, grape leaves and of course – some of our honey. I’m hoping it will be a taste of home, a bit of comfort for our new friends and that they will know they are welcome and accepted in our community – strangers in a strange land, but not for too long.
Kari Raymer Bishop
Lover of Jesus, cheeses and tropical breezes... seeking balance in life, even as I embrace new challenges and chase new dreams. I am wife, mother, daughter and friend, as well as teacher, entrepreneur, activist, writer, beekeeper and hostess. Come along on the journey through my long-awaited midlife crisis!