Sunday, September 25, 2011


The cook at the little Indian joint right across the tracks from Nakano-shima station asked me if I could get him a Canadian visa. This was while he was making the nan that I had ordered just a moment before. He had arrived here three years ago from Bangladesh. I told him that I knew a Bangledeshi fellow who ran an Indian place not unlike this when I lived in Phnom Penh. I don't own this, he said. I'm just a cook. When I asked where he lived he smiled a sad smile and pointed to the floor up above. Travelling thousands of miles from his wife and three kids, all for the grand goal of schlepping his way through the day in a little restaurant the size of a halfway decent living room. Waiting for that sweet bread to bake, he told me that he wanted to go to Canada, with the visa via me, if possible. Could I do that for him? I smiled and nodded. That's what I do when I don't know what the hell to say. I don't know what you do.

Same thing happened a few weeks ago in the Philippines. A cab driver, hearing of my frigid home country, politely asked if I could sponsor him for a Canadian visa. This was after thirty seconds of small talk. Can you get me away from here, is what he was saying. Essentially. You are from a place that has money, and I have no money, or not enough, so please: Give me a break, pal. I smiled and nodded. (You know the deal by now, right?)

Two different countries, a few weeks apart, two different workers working gruelling, shit-paying jobs, and the same request offered to an embarrassed Canadian. One was cooking my food; the other was taking me around town.

Thinking of it in those terms, I feel an odd pinch of shame. As if they are my slaves of some sort. Cooking for me. Driving me here and there. A Bangladeshi. A Filipino. Catering to a rich Canadian.

Of course, I'm not rich (except compared straight with them, and so maybe I am?), and while the Bangladeshi cook was asking me to get him to Canada I said a little soliloquy to myself -- that I, too, am far from home, working in a strange land to pick up some small coin. Didn't work, that interior monologue. I don't know much about Bangladesh, except that it's far, far from the Mayberry-like childhood I once knew and loved. It's also poor, an offshoot of Pakistan, and crowded with millions of folks even more poor than this chap. (I also learned from this gent that Pakistan and Bangladesh are not the closest of friends. Bangladesh and every other country? No problem. Bangladesh and Pakistan? Let's not go there.)

I took my nan and paid him and said goodbye and didn't mention the Canadian visa to him again as I headed out that small door. Same way I didn't mention it to the taxi dude a few weeks ago in the Philippines when I stepped out of his car. Everybody wants to go somewhere, I tell myself. I can't carry on my shoulders a weight I will drop. I can't give you an entrance to my homeland when my own exit is cloaked in these shifting small doubts. Such are my internal whispers when asked for a leg up. (We all have to tell ourselves something to make the day fair.)