Canada C3 Reflections Pt. 1: True Diversity Means Celebrating Without Forcing or Changing

By: Khairunnisa Intiar

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote on Hah-nu-nah’s Gift Box, a project by artist and Leg 3 participant Patrick Saad that will travel along with the ship: “Our differences must make us stronger, together. Merci.”

When I boarded the Polar Prince ship on the night of June 20 for Leg 3 of Canada C3, it was the holy month of Ramadan, a special and spiritual time for a Muslim like me. I wasn’t fasting then, because I was exempted for several reasons, including that I was traveling. Still, it was Eid-ul-Fitr on the 25th, when we were visiting the Mingan Archipelago in Quebec. So, on June 24th, when we were celebrating St. Jean Baptiste day in Havre-Saint-Pierre, my family in Indonesia had sent me messages and pictures. They were 11 hours ahead and they had finished the morning Eid prayer with the community.

It was the first time I truly celebrated St. Jean Baptiste day and even learned a Quebecois song during breakfast (Yes, the singing started early)! But that night, after a beautiful bonfire in Havre-Saint-Pierre, I suddenly missed my family very much. Even after a video call with them, I felt alone, because there was no other Muslim on board at that point that I could share this day with. The night before Eid and the day of Eid are very special to me, but nobody else would care, I thought. Imagine if you LOVE Christmas and your whole family is celebrating at home (and sending you photos of cookies!), but you’re in a place where most people don’t even know what Christmas is.

So, the next morning, after breakfast, I mentioned to Shazad, a staff member on board, that it was actually Eid morning (Canadian time). He expressed excitement and said he would mention it to our Chef friend, Phil, who was scheduled to make dinner for the first time that night. Phil, the head chef of Nightingale Restaurant in Vancouver, was also a participant for this leg. I mentioned it during our morning briefing too, because I thought at the very least, this could be an opportunity to share about my background.

At dinner, Phil noted that it was Eid. I briefly explained what it was to everyone else who weren’t present in the morning briefing and told them that usually, Muslims share meals with their families and friends on this day. In the spirit of this day, Nancy, another participant, took the initiative to make a gratitude circle. Although she’s not religious, she led us to hold hands and take a moment to be thankful. Everybody wished me a happy Eid, and we devoured Phil’s amazing food, which was made with locally-sourced ingredients. It just so happened that the sun was setting as we sailed on the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It was a beautiful Eid day and my heart (and belly) was full.

As is the custom in many parts of Canada, dinner comes with a glass of wine or a bottle of beer (sponsored by partnering companies). It’s very rare that you’d see people celebrating Eid with alcohol and pork ribs, but THAT’S THE POINT. My friends didn’t have to believe in the same thing as me to be present and supportive of me. Just because I always choose the non-pork and non-alcoholic option — something no Canadian has tried to change in me, by the way — it doesn’t mean my friends also have to do the same. And that’s diversity: we cannot all be the same, but in our differences we can still uplift each other.

Nobody can know everything. But we can ask questions and learn about each other. What do we have in common? What makes us different? The similarities can be the foundation to our relationships and the differences can widen our perspectives. This was my experience everyday on the ship learning from indigenous friends, Francophone friends, Anglophone friends, older and younger friends, friends of different sexual orientations and friends of various professional experiences.

Canada is so rich because of its diversity – a national resource. It would be such a waste if we don’t work together to harness the massive potential that we hold. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote on Hah-nu-nah’s Gift Box, a project by artist and Leg 3 participant Patrick Saad: “Our differences must make us stronger, together.”

This article was originally posted on Khairunnisa’s Medium page.