Happy Birthday, Somayya! Now you have joined the ranks of octogenarians like me! Somayya Kasani is one of the best friends I have ever had. Somayya possesses some very outstanding qualities that I and others admire in him. First, he is a very affable fellow, friendly to everyone and willing to make contact with new people. Secondly, he’s extremely loyal to his friends and loves his wife, children, and grandchildren dearly. He is always talking about his grandchildren, sending them photos he has taken and giving them advice. Third, he is very inquisitive, always wanting to learn more about any possible subject whether it be politics, other cultures and customs, philosophy, religion, among many others things. When he first came to Edmonton, he went back to school to learn about Canadian society how to use as computer, keeping a I-Pad with him at all times.
I first met Somayya at a NDP political meeting around 2006 in South Edmonton. Somayya and his wife, Vijayalakshmi, came to Canada in 2000 from India, sponsored by their three children. He is only about a month younger in age than me, so the two of us were going to celebrate a double 80 birthday sometime in June, except that the coronavirus got in the way. Somayya and his wife are snowbirds who spend the winter in United States, visiting their children, their spouses and their grandchildren and usually returning to Edmonton in spring to enjoy some of the amazing activities going on. He and his wife recently celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary in early May, 2020. I now thank him for sending me a 80th birthday gift. I really appreciate the thought.
Like me, Somayya is a former teacher and enjoys his retirement in a variety of ways. Once he returns to Edmonton in spring, he and I are involved together in many activities. Our most popular meeting place is Tim Hortons Doughnuts, with shops, sprinkled throughout this growing and progressive city. Our favorite one is on 23th Avenue and Rabbit Hill Road near his home. Here we drink coffee and discuss a variety of topics including politics, religion, culture, and philosophy. Somayya always carries his handy I-Pad to take pictures of friends, other people and sights, often walking up to other tables, introducing himself, talking to other people, and, of course, snapping pictures. This demonstrates two of his unique qualities: his friendliness and his inquisitive nature, showing his desire to learn more about people and society. In his search for knowledge, Somayya often turns to the Internet and copies quotations of famous people from Aristotle to Einstein, which he sends out on Facebook to family and friends so they can comment on them. This shows his desire to continue to learn about life through the ideas of others.
We also have a coffee club that meets at McDonalds on 23rd Avenue every few weeks, where we spend hours sipping coffee, eating pastries and discussing the topics of the day. That club consist of four members, Somayya, Charan, Cynthia and me, but is open to all comers if they would like to join. COVID-19, has put a damper on these visits,and now even the libraries and museums are temporarily closed.
Once I moved to Edmonton in 2003, I began to attend the various festivals. After I met Somayya, we began to go together to as many activities as possible. Edmonton is Festival City during the summer, but unfortunately most of the festivals have been cancelled this year, and I’m not sure if he will be able to make it back this year. So this a reminder to you, Somayya, of what we have been doing and would be doing this summer if not for COVID-19. Imagine!
The Heritage Festival, held on the long-weekend at the beginning of August, is a multicultural event, consisting of booths sponsored by the over 70 ethnic communities in Edmonton. The groups set up individual tents to display their culture, sell a few hand-crafted goods, and particularly sell delicious foods from their ethnic cuisine. Also, each group might have a stage out front where dancers, singers and actors performed to the large audiences. It was an enjoyable experience, but there usually were a couple of problems. You could purchase food tickets, but to fully appreciate the choices available, you had to walk round along Hawrelak Park, and let the delicious sights and smells of the foods sink in to make your decision.
During the last few years (2010-3019) I went early with my friend, Somayya. We left our homes at 9 am, caught the LRT at Heritage Centre and took it to the University where we caught an express bus to Hawrelak Park, on Edmonton’s Southside. We arrived around ten just as they were opening up. We might drop off some donated food in the large bin at the entrance. Once inside, we walked to a ticket booth and purchased food tickets.
Then we started our journey. As we visited the various booths, Somayya was armed with his I-Pad camera and constantly took photos, which he sent on Facebook to relatives and friends. The whole trip from tent 1 to 75 usually took a couple of hours, as we spent time inside the tents to view the historical and cultural displays. Somayya would take pictures of us, the participants in ethnic dress and the various displays as well as sometimes purchasing the hand-crafted products that each group had for sale. The huge Chinese dragon was one of his favorite shots as well as the Russian and Indian dancers. Also, the hats. Somayya favored the Mexican sombero. Somayya liked to try one on and then get someone to snap a picture of him. We bought food and drinks along the way, but when we reached the end and started our long journey back, I had to stop at various tents, after I decided what I wanted. Somayya wanted to reach the Indian tent, which was usually near the far end of the grounds and take pictures of people he knew there. After that, I wanted to go back and buy some food, perhaps at the Taiwan, Italian, Caribbean, German, or Welsh booths. After another hour, we were exhausted, hot, and ready to leave as the crowds grew larger. As the line-ups got huge, the waiting time for food increased. Or we could go to the park area with trees, grass, and flowers and sit down either on the benches, chairs or grass to rest awhile.
All in all, we had a very good time, refreshed ourselves with water, pop and Italian ice cream, before strolling back to the buses to return home.
Somayya and I also attended The Taste of Edmonton, usually at City Centre Square, where different restaurants sold some of their favorite dishes, whether it was onion cakes, chocolate-covered strawberries, deep fried shrimp inside a tasty batter or various steak or chicken dishes.
Another big event we visited was Cariwest, which celebrated Caribbean culture. We always went early on Saturday morning by LRT, meeting under the “Globe”, grabbed two cups of Tim Horton’s coffee at the shop on 108 St. and Jasper and then watched the colorful parade. It always started late, but there were so many participants, large trucks with West Indian bands playing, and, of course, the costumed competitors from the night before. Armed with his camera, Somayya ventured into the parade, getting amid the marchers and snapping pictures of them. Then we would go to the grounds at Churchill Square and buy some jerk chicken or some other spicy Caribbean delicacies and drinks. One time, my friend, Ann, who was originally from Trinidad-Tobago, won the prize as the Queen of the Carnival for her wonderful, special costume, so we had to get some pictures of her.
Next to Whyte Avenue. Edmonton puts on the second largest Fringe Festival of theatre productions in the world after the famous Edinburgh’s Fringe, with close to 200 plays, and with street performers such as jugglers, clowns, stilt people, and musicians. Also more food booths!
We also attended the famous K-Day Parade in the middle of July, at the start of a ten-day celebration, followed by a carnival, exhibition displays, various artists, and even dragon boat races. We always watched the downtown parade and a couple of times passed out leaflets for Daughters’ Day in early September.
Daughters’ Day is a special annual celebration in Edmonton, sponsored by several ethnic communities in honour of women and girls for their achievements in life. The organization is dedicated to advancing human dignity and gender equality. Several women are selected as Daughters of the Year. The celebration is held at City Hall with speeches by community leaders and politicians. Then the Daughters of the Year are presented and given awards for their contributions towards society. Entertainment with singers and dancers follows, along with plenty of refreshments, most of it East Indian food. Both Somayya and I have played an active part, attending meetings, setting up chairs and tables, and working at the booths, handing out pamphlets and selling T-Shirts. He’s always willing to help out. As usual he is also armed with his ever-present camera.
Another activity that Somayya and I were involved in was politics. I am a long-time New Democratic supporter, while Somayya joined the New Democrats in 2006 thanks to a mutual friend, Bohdan, also a long-time member and professor at the U of A. Since then, Somayya had been very active attending meetings, serving on the executives of two ridings, taking part in party rallies and marching for societal changes for the better. The NDP has been dedicated to social justice and was the leader in developing Public Medicare in Canada. He campaigned in several key elections by knocking on doors, handing out pamphlets, attending meetings, and joining rallies on street corners or near public buildings like the Terwillegar Rec Centre. In 2015, our candidates, Richard Feehan and Bob Turner won in their constituencies and our leader, Rachel Notley, became Premier of Alberta. This shows another great side to Somayya, his dedication to social justice and his desire to improve the lives of others.
If there was an activity, Somayya was sure to attend. Rachel put on a good pancake breakfast in her riding in conjunction with an art show, so there we were, eating pancakes and sausages, with wonderful Canadian Maple Syrup on top, and taking pictures of our fellow supporters and the artists with samples of their work in their private tents.
We also attended the pancake breakfast on Canada Day, July 1, on the grounds of the Provincial Legislature, and Somayya was , of course, taking pictures of our politicians who were serving out the food. Somayya was our constitutuency’s official photographer, so if we needed a picture, we could count on him. It was a great time, and I know you enjoyed it, Somayya! He always checked with me during the week to see what activities we would have to go to, so he kept me on my toes.
One of our favorite activities was going together to political conventions. We went to several in Edmonton, one in Red Deer and two in Calgary. The first one in Calgary, Somayya had recently joined the party. I went down with a group of people and Somayya caught up to us, going by bus. We had a great time listening to the speeches, going to the party afterwards, and enjoying a great banquet on Saturday. When asked to choose a hotel room partner, Somayya chose to stay in my hotel room those two nights, but in his excitement, woke up earlier than usual, well before any activities began, including breakfast in the restaurant!
Somayya is a great friend who keeps in contact, always encouraging me to write, which I have done, currently writing my autobiography as well as many articles, particularly during the last few lockdown months.
Somayya and I also visit the various markets in town, one in the theatre district off Whyte Avenue and another in Terwillegar. Here, we have met our local MLA’s, talked to them, and enjoyed free ice cream!
Two physical activities that Somayya is engaged in on his own is walking constantly amd swimming to keep healthy.
When you return, Somayya, we will have to plan some more trips such as to the Royal Alberta Museum, the Edmonton Zoo, the Space Science Centre and another trip to Fort Edmonton (next year as it is currently under renovation).
I appreciate your friendship greatly, Somayya, hope you and your wife and family are doing well. Have a joyous and marvellous 80th Birthday. Enjoy the cake, food and speeches while being surrounded by your loving family and friends. I am definitely one of them.