Friday, November 18, 2011

Ahmed, Me and the CBC

I hopped into the taxi, gave the driver my destination, then sat in silence for only a few seconds before he asked:

“Would you like to hear the radio?”

“I don’t think so right now, but thanks for asking,” I answered. “You’re the first cabbie to ask,” I said, thinking of the many times I’d gotten into a car with the music blaring.

“You know, according to the book,” the driver said, "we’re suppose to ask the customer before turning the radio on.”

“I didn’t know that,” I said.  “I’ve had a couple of nice experiences lately, though. Twice when I got into a cab, the driver was listening to the CBC. I happen to love the CBC.”

“Ah, yes, the CBC, my favourite, too.”

‘Ah, yes, the CBC.  My favourite, too?’  His comment both surprised and delighted me. It challenged my stereotype of who a typical CBC listener is, and like all stereotypes, it was good to be challenged. I knew my driver was an immigrant because of his strong accent. As well, I was quite sure he was Somali. I had become familiar with their distinctive facial physiognomy since large numbers of Somalis immigrated to Canada in the 1980s.
I wanted to ask my driver how he came to his love of the CBC, but didn’t want to make him uncomfortable. I thought it best to talk about myself first.

“The CBC has played a big role in my life,” I said. “I’m an immigrant to Canada—from the States. Most people think there’s not much difference between the two countries, but there really is. I had a lot to learn about my adopted home when I first came here in 1970. Listening to the CBC helped me feel connected and less lonely.”

“Same here,” he said, introducing himself as Ahmed. “ I’m from Somalia. When I first came, I would listen to the CBC all day, everyday. I learned about Margaret Atwood and Pierre Berton. I heard Gordon Lightfoot sing the ‘Canadian Railroad Trilogy’. I still listen to the station, and it’s good, but it’s not the same.”

As a longtime listener, I agreed. But before I conjured up my list of greatest laments and losses, he beat me to it. “I guess the death of Peter Gzowski and Morningside was the worst. I’ll never forget the day I picked up The Globe and Mail and saw a picture of Peter on the front page with two dates listed above his photo. I knew what they meant. I was so very sad. I couldn’t stop thinking about him.”

Yes, the two dates, birth and death. I, too remember seeing them.

“You’re older than I thought,” I said. “Peter Gzowski goes way back. His last radio show aired in 1997. He was really special wasn’t he?”

“Shelagh Rogers and Barbara Frum, too,” Ahmed said, referring to two other well-known CBC broadcasters. "They would interview people in Newfoundland, then B.C., then the Yukon. I’d take out my map to see where those places were.”

How well I too remembered Shelagh's contagious laugh on Morningside and Barbara’s probing interviews on As It Happens. But it was Peter who touched me the most. Home every day with my colicky first child, he made me feel I was part of the larger world. I felt like I was eavesdropping on wonderful conversations. One day he'd be talking to a woman in the prairies putting up Saskatoon berries, and the next to a man in Quebec on his way out to tap his sugar maples. Inevitably, we’d get a full weather report from these people, find out whether it was a good or bad year for whatever crop they were harvesting, and get a recipe for some kind of jam before Peter hung up.

Some people I knew hated these segments. Thought they were hokey, a little too homespun for their tastes. Not me and Ahmed. We loved hearing everyone’s stories. We thought they actually had the power to pull the country together. Or at least make us feel at home.

“I met so many interesting people.”

“Me too.”

We both laughed, realizing it was happening again. The CBC had brought us, if not the country together.


  1. When I was a stay-at-home mom with an infant and not much of a mom/family network, listening to CBC kept me sane and feeling plugged in to the world and less lonely. It was always on when I was home and in the car. It also taught me about Canada and Margaret Atwood also and all the small communities that Peter G. visited. This posting has burst my immigrant-stereo-typing bubble very