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 Teki the Eritrean

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Doug Blair
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Join date : 2013-02-03
Location : Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

PostSubject: Teki the Eritrean   Sat Sep 21, 2013 10:14 pm

Teki the Eritrean


Lunch buzzer went off. He removed his leather apron, shut off the big belt sander and brushed the dust out of his long black locks. He and I had settled into a mid-day routine in the sunlight at the back loading dock. Items scrounged on credit from the mid-morning lunch truck were the main event…and the most interesting conversation.

Teki had a pretty good hold on his English with an evident Italian bounce and vivacity. From his war-torn homeland he had made it to the “country of the boot” as a domestic servant. He said that it was akin to house slavery to a budding young man in his upper teens. And the svelte women over there seemed to like the mystery of dark suitors. His days off held out many amorous adventures, incomparable coffee and renowned plates of pasta. Not bad for an Eritrean lad who remembered three-day childhood hikes in the desert sun to neighbouring market villages. And all for a couple of baskets full of goat cheeses, breads, figs, chicory and small fishes, while complaining and crying at Mother’s apron strings.

“Slavery?’ I interjected.

“Oh yes, hosts of young men and women made it to Italy that way on the old East Africa-Axis Connection. It was particularly bad for the young girls. And look out if they were good looking!”

“Then I heard of Canada and a surprisingly liberal outlook toward refugees with humanitarian grounds for appeal. My expensive weekends turned into diligent savings effort for a means of escape. A couple of friends pledged to beef up my English to the subsistence level. And I worked my way across on a ship.”

And here he was in the Waterloo Region, of Mennonite and German flavor, working in a cabinet-making factory and getting ready for Oktoberfest and local beer.

And talking over lunch with a bankrupted and disgraced lawyer-turned-woodworker.

I remember my initial interview with the Plant Manager, a Yugoslavian with a strong accent. He looked at my resume and commented, “I don’t know if this is the right fit for you, but we are in need of healthy, teachable help. It seems that we tend to collect from the bottom of the barrel. You can show up next Monday. Bring safety boots.”

Bottom of the barrel, hhmmm? I met many fine people there over the next twelve months. Hard-working, skilled artisans from many countries. Long hours. Some missing fingers; some missing smiles; some missing Home. People like Teki.

And Management was disrespectful, manipulative and double-tongued throughout. Until the Home Plant near Chicago closed them down under the new Free Trade Deal. And I watched my supervisor in the Purchasing-Shipping Department lose his clout.

Teki I would see in later years in public places with a new shy wife and a bright-eyed baby boy. He didn’t appear to recognize me. I left it at that.
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