Saturday, April 1, 2017

Muslims at my local Food Bank

The Food Bank operated by Share in Port Moody, BC serves many people. From my casual observations (as a participant I might add -- I am on an extremely limited income and have no assets) I estimate the groups consist of the poor, the mentally ill, drug addicts and immigrants. Most people are over 35 years of age, with the majority of those being over 45. There are quite a few seniors too.

Who do I never see there? Koreans, despite the city next door (Coquitlam) having many. I also see few Chinese, despite the largest visible minority in GVRD being Chinese. There are plenty of Punjabis in all of Vancouver area too. None.

I estimate the largest group to be Middle Eastern immigrants, the second largest group being Caucasian (native-born?) Canadians. Followed by Slavs. I am guessing based on conversations I have had with them, and recognizing accent and dress. Also by just asking them directly in the context of polite chit chat. The largest groups, ethnically-speaking are in the following order: Arabs (Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan etc), Iranians, Russians, Somalis. I have heard a few Vietnamese and more Filipinos. Only once each heard French or Spanish spoken. Never Dutch or German.

I saw no mentally ill among the immigrants. I noticed a very different 'vibe' from the Muslim men versus the women--at both food banks. The women seemed to be 'hey, let's get what we can!' but the men were like 'this is so degrading that I am here.' They seemed to be taking this whole bread line thing a lot more personally. They often looked frustrated and as if they would die of embarrassment. Is this because in traditional society, especially Islamic society, men are used to being the bread-winners? Or is it because grocery shopping is women's work? I am speaking of the look on their faces and their body language. Western locals looked more neutral.

One group of large Afghan men in their early 40s looked to me like criminals. How do I know? I don't. But I admit to making judgement calls when I see people. I see their dress, their demeanor, how they move and relate to others, their ways of talking and I think I can tell the difference between a dentist from Kabul and ex-Taliban from Mazar Al-Shareef. Street cops not accountants. They had a kind of restrained authority and they didn't mix with the others of their community. The Arab women tended to be a little rude in terms of queue etiquette and aggressive when it came to considering others in the number system. I saw little of this sort of inconsideration among Iranian women. Put simply, a lot of Arabic-speaking women behave boorishly. It is common courtesy that in arriving and staking your claim for when numbers are handed out at 9 a.m., you don't just show up at 7 a.m., then go for tea for two hours expecting your place to be held in the pre-line up line up. They miss their number being call then expect to be forgiven and allowed to skip queue.  They jump line once inside. Not all of course, but the worst offenders were usually these short women in hijabs.

There have been physical altercations and Port Moody Police have been called on several occasions. I find it very bad form. It is of course clearly not only Arab women, I observed a mentally ill druggie stealing from someone's bag. But immigrants are according to CBC appreciative of charity and keen to integrate. I question that perspective as wishful thinking.

The other thing I noticed is that by and large the only women who bring kids are Arab women. And two is not uncommon.


The Food Bank operated by the Salvation Army in New Westminster has a larger percentage of mentally ill persons and drug addicts compared to Port Moody. The ethnic/national origin makeup of the clients appears to be more native-born Canadians. A few regular Indians (India) but again, no Koreans. Almost no Chinese. The immigrants appeared to be again, Middle Easterners (Arabic and Farsi speakers). No Turkish or Kurdish-speakers as far as I could tell. And I have an ear for language.

I met one Libyan man (wearing expensive jewellery) who has a real sense of entitlement. He couldn't have been older than 45, maybe 40. If volunteers were late he grumbled. He criticized the food on offer (it is excellent) and dismissed the motives of the donors as tax write-offs or some such. He was a real sour pus whenever I talked with him.  He didn't even have to open his mouth to see his state of mind. Based on his comments he clearly had some ongoing quarrel with the provincial government too. And while I might agree with him on some points, I just thought it in poor taste to do so where we were being given free food by a generous Christian charity. Most of the Muslims were women over 40, even 50. An older crowd than Port Moody Arab women. Were they mothers or grandmothers? I couldn't tell.

It makes me wonder -- if churches in Canada serve everyone, does the Surrey Muslim Food Bank serve everyone also. I intend to find out.

Several months later I observe in May at the Sally Anne food bank that someone was playing the 1:15 pm call to prayer from their phone, at length, without earphones. This was despite the grounds being maintained by a church. No Christian or Buddhists were playing their religious intonations. It appeared to be coming from a male, either the father and son or a man in his 20's behind them. I thought it misplaced unless it was a deliberate offence, a kind of jihad by word.

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