Learning to see through new eyes in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” Luke 4:18-19
We all are born blind to realities other than our own. This was true for me growing up in places where most others were Caucasian, middle class. We ate the same food at lunch, we had the same values for independence, creativity, and achievement. There wasn’t much diversity, and if there was, difference was awkward and uncomfortable.
So I ignored it, assuming everyone’s realities mirrored my own. I was colorblind. In my blindness, racism and othering didn’t exist, but as I began to pursue God’s Kingdom values, I was invited to expand my circles and rub shoulders with people different than me. It was awkward and it was beautiful.
Meeting Asha for the first time, I walked into her home, an apartment that was too hot in a cold Saskatoon winter that was too cold. I was expecting a joyful welcome and introduction to the Iraqi family. Instead, I was greeted by the daughter and ushered quietly into a room full of women, dressed in black, covered heads bowed respectfully. Sorrowfully. They were grieving in an unfamiliar way. I learned that Asha was grieving for her father who had just died back at home, a world away. I heard her long for her husband, for her family, for her support back home in Iraq. In the midst of sorrow, I saw the beauty in these Muslim womens' practice of togetherness, even when my first instinct was to let her grieve privately. I was humbled as the daughter served me food and cared for me, honored me amidst all the other distractions.
Out of this, a curious, beautiful friendship was formed. I began to welcome interactions like this. I searched for opportunities to sit at the feet of First Nations elders, to celebrate Chinese New Year, to make dulma, and dumplings, and momos, and samosas. I learned to shake my booty with the Congolese cultural group in the west end of Saskatoon. I learned to belly dance in my kitchen with my Afghani roommate, and I learned to don myself in a sari at a Bengali New Year celebration.
I’m a bad cook and a worse dancer, but my eyesight is improving! The scales began to fall from my eyes, and I saw and I noticed: why are there way more First Nations people in my poor neighbourhood—or at the local soup kitchen, or in prison, or in foster care—than in the rest of the city? Why are others applying stereotypes to my Asian friend? Why is it only the white people who are talking from the front at church? Why are my friends living in a tent, or in their car, or numb to the effects of their bed-bug-ridden home?
I need to first see these discrepancies to begin to address the root of the injustices to which I’ve been blind, and I see these only when I am up close, in proximity with the poor, the powerless, and those with stories that have been different than my own.
Katelyn is a Servant Partners staff currently pioneering a new site in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.