Like Butch and Sundance, I’m in a Bromance.

My man and I have an especially unusual bromantic connection that spans international borders…

… by language, religion, ethnicity, age, cultural traditions… just about everything about us is, or was, different.

Although we’ve “been together” now for almost 4 years – getting together a couple of times a week – over the past year and a half we’ve spent even more time together than previously.

Depending on the rules of the COVID day, we’ve shared cups of steaming coffee or tea via ZOOM or at the local college or at 6 a.m. in a Tim Hortons’ coffeeshop, me and my Syrian bro (student/friend)…

… to study with intent for the Canadian Citizenship test.

We read and discuss, laugh and tease, he’ll go off topic like he did yesterday with an excited story about his daughter winning a new bicycle in a school contest, or even sometimes grousing over our problems.

This gentle man and his wife (and 5 beautiful, enthusiastic young kids) are exiled refugees that have been living in Canada for close to 6 years.

Each day they become just a tiny bit more “Canadian”… no, not yet by law or official decree, but for sure by custom and language.

I can perceive this change intently when he speaks in idioms to me: “Oh Larry, you’re Over The Hill!”, or, “Are you pulling my leg?“, or, when he casually orders a “double-double” now at Tim Hortons.

He’s not the only one who’s changed… yup, he’s changed me too.

I greet him each time we meet, As-salamu alaykum… (Peace be upon you)… my understanding and knowledge of Syria, the Middle East, Arabic language, and the Muslim faith have all bloomed too.

In much the same way that I learn about myself by writing these blog posts, I find that I learn about myself by working and chatting with a man who has been tossed across the globe to live in my country, my culture, so that his family can be safe from bombs and bullets and torture.

Never in his wildest dreams did he see a life in largely white-skinned, Christian-dominated, English-speaking North America as part of his future.

Never in my wildest dreams did I envision spending hundreds of hours explaining what it means to be Canadian to a young, Arabic-speaking, brown-skinned Muslim man.

He looks to me for learning, cultural understanding, and even basic knowledge that eluded him in his homeland. I shook my head in disbelief when I realized he had no idea there was an ocean (what’s an ocean?) separating Syria from Canada.

It’s clear that he’s had an awakening… BIG TIME!

I can tell because… long ago… I had one too.

My awakening came over 40 years ago when I left my hometown of Hamilton.

My eyes were opened by seeing different geographies and histories, architectures, ideologies and politics, and and and… I was wearing translucent blinders (and still am no doubt) because I had never had the opportunity to see and experience what was behind other doors.

If you spend your whole life only seeing the colour green, red has no meaning.

These new experiences were a little like a hallucinogenic LSD trip. Colours and textures were changing, my understanding rose bit by bit. The light rainbow had changed and would never go back to where it was… ever.

Today I know to actively look for other “colours” in the world.

I see this same vision of new light and colours in my Syrian friend. It’s scary and exciting for him. I get it.

OK, back to where we began this post.

What is it to be Canadian?

For those who’ve not studied or seen a citizenship test (Canadian or otherwise)… it ain’t a walk in the park for a native-born Canadian, a university graduate from another country… and certainly not an elementary-schooled Syrian.

Citizenship isn’t handed out like pre-wrapped candies at the door on Halloween.

One “earns” citizenship by working hard to understand the history and culture of this young country, this Canuck land painted one stroke at a time with thousands of years of indigenous history and millions of immigrant stories.

I have my fingers crossed that my young “bromantic” partner and his family will soon wave the Maple Leaf as new Canadians and become sewn into this quilt of many colours.