By Jenn Watt
Published Nov. 6 2018
Indigenous author Richard Wagamese once wrote that the Huron word Kanata from which the word Canada comes along with meaning village could also mean one fire that people gather around to share stories of their lives.
That act of sharing can bring a sense of belonging CBC journalist Carol Off told a Haliburton audience gathered at the Pinestone Resort to hear her speak for the annual Friends of the Library book gala late last month.
“We all come to this campfire and we all sit around this campfire and we tell our story of how we got there. And as we tell the story and hear each other’s stories we connect” she said.
Off’s most recent book All We Leave Behind gets its name from a famous Wagamese quotation about the role of story in people’s lives.
The quotation reads in part: “All that we are is story. From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind.”
The book tells the story of how Asad Aryubwal and his family ended up in Canada from their home in Afghanistan – and Off’s role in that migration.
Off first met Aryubwal when she was in Afghanistan soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The United States was funnelling money into the country hoping to reduce the numbers of American troops needed by engaging the warlords and their militias to do some of the fighting.
Though it was clear that the warlords were despicable few were willing to speak up except for Aryubwal who agreed to participate in the CBC’s documentary.
He told of the misdeeds of Rashid Dostum then a warlord who is now vice-president of Afghanistan.
Asad’s actions put him and his family in great danger though Off was not aware at the time of just how bad things became.
Her book tells the story of what happened to the family following Asad’s participation in that documentary and about Off’s decision to break down the journalistic norm of disinterest to actively assist the Aryubwals in their flight from Afghanistan.
“I got to know these people so well. It changed my life. It changed who I am as a human being” she said.
Off told the audience of how important and meaningful it is to engage in acts of kindness and humanity.
She said her mother had recently died and when she was at the funeral she met a family of Vietnamese people her parents had sponsored in 1979 after they came to Canada as refugees.
They told her about the impact her mother had on their lives and shared an anecdote about their time adrift in the ocean making their way to Canada.
They were without fuel food or water one of the women told Off when an apple appeared in the water. It had been thrown into the ocean by guests on a passing cruise ship.
Those on the boat cut the fruit into small pieces so that everyone would be able to have a bite.
“She can never see or smell or taste an apple without connecting back to that first delicious encounter” Off said.
The role her parents played in assisting this family had never been forgotten and its effect was profound.
“These people came with little more than their stories and they connected and the Aryubwals came with little more than their story … and they joined with all of the stories” she said adding that every member of the audience could write a book about the history of their families.
“We all sit around this campfire we call Canada and we share these stories and that’s how we know we belong.”
The sold-out book gala funds the work of the Friends of the Haliburton County Public Library.