We all want to make a difference in the world, to show some kind of commitment to our friends and families, to build solidarity with members of our community, perhaps even to work in some systematic way for political and social change. When my partner Horst and I first began thinking about sponsoring a refugee I didn’t realize such an undertaking could be all of these things. Now I know differently.
As an aging gay couple trying to retain some shreds of our youthful idealism, we give to charities, we support progressive political causes, we attend fairs and fundraisers, we participate in drives, dinners and do-gooder events; but nothing we have done in the past can match the profoundly fulfilling and humbling experience of directly helping another human being in need. From our first halting conversation with Malek over the internet we began to share in his life: the oppression and fear that drove him from his homeland, the awful limbo of exile in Turkey, a refugee’s prolonged and apprehensive waiting for that flight to freedom as money and options run out, the barely expressible hope for something better.
Now that he is safely with us in Winnipeg we can also share Malek’s frustrations and joys as he adjusts to life in this sunlit and wind-blown patch of Canadian prairie. Across the very real divide of culture, language and social conditioning, and in addition to showing us how to make really good tea, Malek has taught us some big lessons: the boundless terror and stupidity represented by an English word he finds difficult to pronounce: prejudice; the resilience of LGBT people in the face of it; believing that love is the solution; and how important it is for all of us to have a home.