On Sunday, May 21st, 2006, I returned to Canada after a five-week excursion to France. It was an eye-opening experience, and I was fortunate to have shared it with some highly charismatic Parisians. I learned a lot from them, but learned more from the disenfranchised youth that make up the most visible portion of the large Muslim population. Most are unemployed or working menial jobs, and were in awe that I, as a Muslim, was an engineer.
Unfortunately, the first escape for most of these angry youth has been drugs. At the very least, many of these youth - largely of Moroccan and Algerian descent - regularly smoke joints and occasionally heavier stuff. The one image that summed up my entire trip was that of a stoned Moroccan in his late 20's, rolling a joint with three four-foot baguettes on his lap.
Which brings us to the baguettes. There are baguettes everywhere. I literally could not walk for more than five minutes, at any time of the day or night, without seeing someone carrying at least one baguette. But they're fantastic - always fresh, buttery, and just plain delicious. I have no idea why the benchmark of all goodness is sliced bread - I'd prefer an unsliced baguette any day. To make things even more tempting, Nutella is cheap and socially acceptable for both kids and adults in France.
During the five weeks, we helped reconnect a son with his estranged father, bridged a decade-old gap between two communities, and spoke with several hundreds of angry youth, among other things. Hopefully, we've at least planted some seeds that will produce some fruit in the long run. From a personal standpoint, I learned a great deal about dealing with specific types of people, a lot about leadership and integrity, and vastly improved my French.
I didn't expect to get a chance to do much sightseeing, but I did spend a day hiking through the mountains neighbouring Switzerland. Prior to this trip, the most naturally beautiful place I had ever been to was the mountains in Northern Pakistan. No longer; the natural beauty around the Cascades du Herisson in the Jura region of France tops it. Rolling mountains as far as the eye can see, with flowing streams dropping into majestic waterfalls... it was absolutely incredible, a true sign of the power of Allah. The same hiking trail also included a brief trek through a cave, which looked just like Faramir's hideout towards the end of "The Two Towers".
I'm back safely, and back to the usual routine now. I'll write more about the trip later; there are thousands of stories to tell.