Pakistan in McMurray

I do my best to arrive early at things.  It doesn't always end up that way, but last night it did, as I strolled into École McTavish a full 45-minutes ahead of when the volunteer appreciation program was scheduled to begin.  Zaid Sulaiman, President of the PCA (Pakistan Canada Association) smiled brightly the moment I walked into the room.  Getting there in advance of the other dignitaries, and many of the attendees, gave me quality time to visit, a gift that I really appreciated.

I immediately found myself surrounded by some energetic young fellows who peppered me with questions, shared their love of basketball, baseball and cricket, and made me feel incredibly welcomed.  Haris stuck by me most of the night, a bright, articulate and engaging young fellow.  According to his father, Sohail, he has never been shy about speaking in front of people.  His personality, coupled with his intelligence and broad set of interests, makes me think that one day he could become Prime Minister.

Each time I attend a PCA event, familiar faces become more familiar, and names become more easy to recall.  Sohail, Nadeem, Hussain, Mohammad, Nargis, Imam, Naveed, Aamir, Shadab, Aqeel, Zafar....the list is growing.

"How many Pakistanis are in Fort McMurray?" I asked an elder.

"We are now about 700 families," he replied.  "At three to five people per family, sometimes more, that is well over three thousand people."

I'm slowly learning customs and traditions, like the naming convention, which to some degree continues to elude me.  I thought I had it figured out last night, but as I review things this morning, I'm less certain.  Unlike western cultures, family names seem to change from generation to generation.

The food at the volunteer appreciation event was marvellous, full of flavour and variety.  It was a potluck affair with each family bringing a dish or two.  Chicken is predominant, prepared in multiple ways, all of which I'd love to get the recipes for.

"Do you find it spicy?" asked a young man just arrived from Toronto, with aspirations to become a power engineer.

"You know, it's not too bad," I said.  "When it's really spicy, a pool of sweat begins to form on my bald spot."

He laughed.  "The same thing happens to me!" though his bald spot is infinitely younger than mine.

It was nice to be joined by good friends Don Scott (MLA), Gail Sparrow (his assistant), Mike Allen (MLA) and Tyran Ault (Councillor).  I was pleased to be there with several hats on, as interim executive director of Arts Council Wood Buffalo and as a member of the Premier's Council on Culture.

"Is that group linked only to the former Premier," some sage person asked.

"Yes and no," I said.  "She was Premier when we were first appointed, but the Council connects more to the office of the Premier, regardless who it is."

At the Council we spend a lot of time talking about the "Alberta Story" and how arts and culture are integral to telling it.  The growth of the Pakistan Canada Association of Fort McMurray is a big part of our Wood Buffalo story. Engaged, committed, and passionate about their home, this is an organization that values volunteerism and takes time each year to encourage the hearts of their members.  The 5th annual celebration was a wonderful evening, with good food, friends and fellowship.  I'm grateful to have been invited to participate.  Thank you.


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