July 2017 |Stephen J. Lyons| Selamta
“The Ethiopian cabbie’s first question to me when I climb into the back seat to head over to Toronto’s Junction neighborhood is, “How is your life?”
I love this kind of question because we can dispel all the trivial talk and drill down to more substantial conversation. I tell him I am well but a bit off-balance from staying at the palatial Four Seasons Hotel. Such luxurious quarters are foreign to me. I mean, a “turndown service”? And, by the way, how did the doorman know my name when I had never before set foot in Toronto, or a Four Seasons at that?
“It’s a little trick they have,” he says with a smile, checking me out in the rearview mirror.
I toss his question back to him, and he answers that he has lived with his brother and his family in Toronto for three years, learning English by watching television. He came to this diverse city, where currently 50 percent of the population was born outside of Canada, for more employment and educational opportunities — the same reason I will hear from many cabbies over the next few days, no matter their country of origin.
Toronto is home to between 45,000 to 50,000 people of Ethiopian descent, according to the Greater Toronto Area’s Ethiopian Association — just under 2 percent of the city’s 2.7 million residents.
They hold jobs in all sectors of the business community. Muluken Muchie, for example, came to Toronto in 1986 and nine years later launched Toronto’s first Ethiopian newspaper, Hawarya. Director and dramaturge Weyni Mengesha is a major artistic force in Toronto’s theatre community, directing plays at the city’s renowned Prince of Wales Theatre.
So many aspects of Ethiopian Canadian cultural heritage — from cuisine and music to dance and festivities — have become an integral part of Toronto’s own cultural heritage, said Mayor John Tory, that March 2015 was declared “Ethiopian Canadian Heritage Month.”
My new friend’s wages support a dozen family members back in Ethiopia. His wife and son still live there, he tells me, and he misses them tremendously. He shows me a photo of his son on his cell phone. The boy is beyond handsome.
He drops me off on Dundas Street West, in the heart of the Junction’s business district and not far from Bloor Street West, where there are several restaurants featuring Ethiopian and other African cuisine that my friend recommends. I offer blessings to him and his family, and I’m off to explore the neighborhood.
Join the Hawkins Bay Revolution. Before it is banned. Or tossed in the bonfire.