Names have been changed to protect identity.
I met Ali at a youth community center. He was running film making workshops and I was doing some creative arts workshops. Both of us were targeting youth at risk. He was needing some help to get his NGO off the ground. I was working for two other NGOs at the time and volunteered to help him.
I was at every project watching him work. He was always focused and passionate about what he did. His wife suppported him in every aspect and her voice seemed to be the only one that he would listen to if his passion was taking him away and she felt he needed to come back to the present moment.
I feel, and this is my opinion only, that he seemed inattentive to his two sons. One of them liked making films and I feel he identified with him more but still his mind was on creating a picture for a message. Ali was so involved he could not see past his art. He lived and breathed it. He was very gentle with his family. Not a yeller. Always kind but you could tell his mind was busy creating something all the time.
I left the NGO world to enter the world of the public service. Which means to say, I took a government job with more money. Then I left the government job to find myself. In the process I found Ali. We stopped and had lunch together and I found myself asking him a hundred questions about how he knew he loved the arts and how he persisted through it.
He told me that as soon as a photo camera had fallen into his hands he knew. He took pictures of everything and became the elementary school newspaper boy although there was no newspaper. He posted all his pictures and writings up on the hall of his school in the middle east. He tells me about this with such depth. I feel nothing could have stopped him. Not only did he need to take pictures and write about events, he also needed to share it. It was a force or energy working through him and could not be stopped.
Out of school hours he sold potatoes on the street corner for money to buy black out material to make a dark room in his childhood home. A young boy at this time, his parents saw that he was different than the rest of him but they never prevented him from doing what he wanted. They gave him a room to convert to a dark room. (How many of us would do that?) He tells stories of him and neighbourhood kids running down his street with building materials. I was impressed, but not surprised, at how he recruited others to work towards his campaign. I too had been swept up in his passion. It is not just his art but his ideals that are appealing to me.
Highschool continued his passion. He took photographs and wrote stories for the school. His ideals becoming more grown up and clear. He was someone with strong socialist beliefs and it was clear that he was going to have to leave his country. He was on opposite ends of the government of the time.
He came to Canada and stumbled on the opportunity to work in graphic design and then film. Always trying to portray a higher message with his art. Even how his story ‘stumbled’ together is by a design that one could not have planned but came so easily. While he talks I think life takes us on a journey. We ask and the pieces fit together if we believe. And Ali believes. It never seemed to come to his mind to question what he was after. He moves towards it like he is absolutely sure-footed in every step.
His art eventually moving him from Ontario to Saskatatchewan this is where I met him. Both of us trying to get youth to become themselves and giving them opportunities to explore who they are free of charge. His opportunity is one allowing them to speak out.
As we talked I sensed he was getting anxious to move back into the arts. He has been teaching at the university for some time and really wants to create art again.
I ask him about his sibling and parents. I recall him being distant with his own children and wondered if he was like that as a child. He describes the same story. He feels he was always off doing his own thing and never felt he got to know them. He also never saw them again after he left at the age of 18. He is now in his 50’s. His father has since passed on.
We go our separate ways but I wonder if he still has a message to get out to the world? Or has he already? There were a few youth that made films and won awards at Film Festivals under his inspiration. Maybe he is meant to inspire many people or maybe just one. Maybe he was meant to meet up with me so I could tell his story and it would impact someone else. Or does he need to create a masterpiece film? It doesn’t matter if it won’t make him famous. He just needs one person to see it to make a difference. I wonder, what is his life purpose? Just doing art or is it a message? Or perhaps it is a change in society even if the shift is ever so slight. We move with small adjustments and not big ones.
Surely his purpose is in the arts or at the very least it is his medium. He has a message to bring and I do believe he wants to bring it internationally through the arts. I don’t think he is done yet. He wants to make a difference. With his focus and determination I do believe he can do it. I don’t think anything can stop him. Do we know when we have accomplished what we are suppose to accomplish? Do we sit back and say, “This is it. This is as good as I will ever say/do/be what I came here to say/do/be.” Will it be a feeling inside us of fulfilment?