Jan 12, 2011

Global Inequality

By Souha Khan

Most days I wish I was a crisp hundred dollar bill instead of a brown girl from South Asia. Everyone would want me in their pockets, smile when they would hold me in their hands or flaunt me like the crown on Queen Elizabeth’s head.

You see, a hundred dollar bill has no limitations. It can travel far and wide, passed on from wallet to purse. People would feel lucky to get their hands on it. They would all smile at it, eyes gleaming like the lights on the tall trees on Christmas morning. Yes, a hundred dollar bill has it easy; however, people like me do not.

Days that are not spent wishing I was a hundred dollar bill are spent regretting my decision to move to Quebec. Why Quebec? Was it the name that attracted me? Or was it the fact that people spoke French? The latter seems more likely. Perhaps, the decision was influenced by a childhood dream; something about retiring in a Villa with its giant Mahogany doors; of vine yards and silk drapes. What in the world was I thinking? Maybe that is just it. I wasn’t thinking.

Moving to a new country straight out of college is as wise as stealing money from a Leprechaun. But there I was relocating to Quebec right after graduation. Part of the reason was to look for a job to pay my parents back for the money they had spent on college funds. When your parents have low wage jobs, money does not come easy.   

I started off applying for jobs related to my major; journalism. Thinking I would be employed right away was like thinking I would be wearing the Cullinan diamond on my ring finger next fall; down right impossible. So I went for something more attainable.

Now, if I were a dollar bill, the pale face belonging to the horizontally challenged man sitting behind that desk at North-West Elementary would have worn a completely different expression than it did on that unpleasant December morning as I stepped in.

The fluorescent lights on the ceiling illuminated the insipid surroundings casting a shadow across the man’s already scowling face. Unnerved, I walked up to his desk.

“Um..I’m here to apply for the position of the English teacher” I said.

His chapped lips parted slightly and he gurgled. Unless he had swallowed a toad by mistake, the only logical explanation I could come up with was that he had a heavy French accent.

“You need to wait” he said.

His tone made it seem like he was doing me a favor just buy saying those words.

Snubbed, I went and sat down on one of the cold hard chairs that lined the wall on the opposite corner. Meanwhile, the man behind the desk picked up the receiver and with his stubby round fingers pressed a bunch of numbers. I silently followed his words while he talked to the person on the other end in French. I guess watching all those French soaps paid off. Not only could I keep up with everything he said but I felt a certain reassurance at the sound of it. It reminded me that all that effort spent learning a third language was a sensible thing to do.

“Elle est un immigrant” I heard him say.

“Excusez-moi..” I interrupted and explained to him that I was not an immigrant but a Canadian national.

He turned his head to look at me. The expression on his face similar to what your face would look like if you were to hear a dog talk.

It took him around ten seconds to switch the lights back on in his brain and turn his head back and whisper into the receiver.

The frowning and spitting venom was starting to make more sense now.

I may know how to speak in French but that does not change the fact that I am South Asian. I could go to a ballet in France and say “J'aime le ballet! C'est un Jou de Vie!” But that will not stop the officer at the gate from saying “Nice act, madam, now lets have a look at some Id, shall we?”

The man had hung up the phone now and was taking out a form. He wrote something on it and called me to fill it out. I got up and made my way towards his desk. The form was fairly simple and required me to write down essential details, from my name to my college major. What caught my eye however, was a tiny blue line, striking out the numbers which were to represent the salary. On top of it was another number written in hand, much lesser than the original pay. Phrases like “Racism helps fuel economic inequality”, “Data confirming that the average salary of white staff is higher than black employees is consistent with CURE's Annual Review”,  “Workforce Survey reports (ARWS) substantiate racial inequality” “Economic disparity between races”, “Asian woman denied equal pay”, came to mind.

You see, I was the kind of person who would never have paid attention to statistics in news reports or articles. But the day you become a statistic, believe me that changes things.

I looked up to find the man now reading the newspaper. The headline read, “Income Gap across the Continents Widens”. Understanding the situation a little too well, I was forced to accept reality even if it ended up feeling like a lump in my throat; the kind you get when you dry swallow a pill. Somehow I managed to fill out the rest of the form and after handing it to the man I turned and made my way out.

Perhaps, this is exactly the type of circumstance where being a hundred dollar bill would have been much more convenient. 


Fatin said...

I love the comparison.

Najia Navaid said...

I'll say it again, I love it!

Marium Ibrahim said...

Souha! i love this. its amazing. i love the hundred dollar bill comparison.

Zahra said...

I love the comparison!

camilla munaf said...


yusra abbasi said...

da comparision gives da topic a new dimension..loved it!

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