Henry and Jorge

Trip Start Nov 13, 2010
Trip End Jul 20, 2011

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Where I stayed
The Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast

Flag of Peru  ,
Friday, April 1, 2011

Henry and Jorge need your help. On my second day in Lima, while standing in the mall of an office building lobby and surveying the billboards of that evening's Cinema choices, I noticed a well-dressed guy standing beside me, also surveying the posters.  What was unusual about this was it was only around 10 am and there was only the two of us taking the time to look at the posters – a little island of calm within the flurry of a very frantic business crowd.  When I scoped him out, trying to figure out his story – a young guy, obviously dressed with great care that day – suit and tie, shoes shined, shirt pressed, a large binder and manila envelope under his arm, stopping for a minute to escape into the stories of the looming movie posters.  Something was different about him:  he looked very sad and distracted.  I was interested in knowing more – who he was, why only he and I were planning an escape into the world of make believe, so early in the morning.  I asked him what he was going to see.

He seemed startled by my question.  It was clear that he did not speak English fluently and was very timid in trying to answer me:  embarrassed by his lack of ability.  He told me his English was poor, I told him my Spanish was even poorer.  He asked me where I was from and when I told him 'Canada’, his whole face lit up like a television being turned on in the dark.  He came alive.  "Do you speak French?"  He eagerly asked, searching for a commonality that would allow us to share at least a little of our lives as hundreds passed by.   “Un Peu, je parle nur un pue.” I managed to squeak out, realizing, like by blockhead Spanglish, I had just combined a German word into an incredibly short French sentence.  It was my turn to be embarrassed.

Anyway, fast forward to an animated conversation using English, French, Spanish and my superior communication language:  Charades, I learned that Henry was indeed very sad.  Inside his binder was a professional presentation of, well, “Project Quebec”.  It was a dossier of everything Quebec:  facts, maps, figures, articles, documents – you name it – everything and anything anybody could ever want to know about the province of Quebec, Canada. Inside the envelope was a record of years and years of hard work, sacrifices and hope. 

I learned that this smartly dressed young guy had just come out of an interview with a Quebec immigration agent, his name was Henry, and yes, I called it right, he was sad, very sad.  In fact, he had looked physically deflated until I had said the word “Canada” and I that was when I got to see his body actually reflate before my eyes.  He told me he and his friend had learned about the Quebec immigration project – Quebec was in need of more skilled workers and somehow Henry and his friend Jorge, had learned about it.  They were seeking a better life somewhere, away from the corruption and limited opportunities in an over educated,  yet under opportunitied country like Peru.  Immigrating to Canada could be the answer, the dream that they both wanted.  Sounded great – the large Manila envelope contained the record of all of Henry’s academic accomplishments;  a Degree in Computer Systems Analysis,  other certificates proving his history of self-improvement.  An envelope filled with papers, representing years of focus and study, carefully collected that morning to present to a stranger, in an interview, for review and analysis…….and for proof of worthiness.

I was a recruiter with the Calgary Police Service for many years.  I interviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants with the same envelopes, same suits, same polished shoes, same sweaty Manila envelopes filled with degrees and certificates and letters of recommendations, each one carefully included to show worthiness, worthiness for a chance at a dream, a new career, a new life.  I never once underplayed the power I had over the review of these documents, or their interviews.  I had the ability to change the course of their lives. I had been there myself, with my own envelope, and I knew how much all of this counted.  As we tried to talk in our combination of four languages: French, English, German and Spanish…and a little Pictionary, I watched as Henry became more and more alive.  The sadness was replaced with the energy of hope – the energy of looking forward and not in reflecting on the past.  This particular past was very recent as, just moments before, Henry had come out of that office building, out of his interview with the immigration agent who held his future in his hands, down into to the lobby to stand blankly and forlornly in front of some movie posters, hoping for them to take him away from the news the Canadian agent  had just delivered.

Back to Henry and Jorge’s dream of immigrating on the Quebec professional Visa program.  They were perfect candidates:  both well-educated with extensive work experience……only…….big problem……Quebec only wants French speaking immigrants.  Neither Henry of Jorge spoke French.  So they did what thousands of people in the developing world do when facing huge challenges every day.  They make a plan and they work that plan.  Theirs was to learn French, become fluent and start their new life in Canada, in Quebec, a place they both know, at least factually, better than most Quebecers.

Studying French, in Lima, meant going back to University, at night and on weekends, for a couple of years and working, one word at a time,  towards a dream.  That day, in the lobby of a big office building in the city, around 10 am, Henry’s dream had been shattered.  His oral exam, by the Quebec agent, had not gone well.  He knew enough vocabulary, he can write French fluently, his problem, the agent said, was he cannot speak fast enough.  His conversation skills were not at the professional level. Devastating news. 

As we spoke, Henry realized that meeting me, here in the lobby of this office building, was proving to be too much of an opportunity to pass up and he wanted to make the best of it.  Because he struggled with English and I struggled with French, he called Jorge on his cell phone and asked him if he could come to meet us as Jorge was fluent in all three languages – French, Spanish and English.  Jorge was at work close by and could only come on his lunch hour which was quickly approaching. 

So, over lunch, Jorge, with his Master’s Degree in computer Management from an Australian University – he studied abroad for one year in Sydney,  explained how much they wanted to move to Quebec, why this Visa opportunity was worth the effort of learning French, and how hard they had worked to become fluent.  Their French professor in the Lima university, as with most language teachers across the world, was not a native French speaker.  He is a Spanish guy, teaching French.  Both Henry and Jorge had surpassed his ability to teach them anything more in conversation.  And the other important element is that foreign French is France French and not Quebecois French – big differences and in this case not the Quebec saying of “Vive la Difference.”

So after that long explanation – I am putting it out into the universe and asking for your help.  If you or someone you know speaks French, preferably Quebecois French, but I know both of these guys would be happy to just practice conversation with anyone, can you please let me know and I will hook you up with each other.  Paying it forward, honouring karma, helping out……I have and continue to be blessed in my life and believe there are no coincidences, no moments that do not matter if we pay attention.  I have the luxury of having the time now to pay attention, and with that comes some responsibility.  I also know, as I travel around the world, how incredibly lucky I am to have been born in a country with freedoms and opportunities that many of us take for granted.  It is not at all equal out here – the inequalities are beyond belief and I think it is because of this that I have to work harder to do what I can every day;  to seize the moments given to me to listen and learn and share,  what and how I can.  This is my life of ‘Interrupted Days’.

What I had to offer these guys was my knowledge on International recruiting – my first contract after leaving policing was in International recruiting when Calgary was booming and we had our own talent shortages…..the economic drop changed that quickly, but, combined with my background in Human Resources, I knew enough to understand that even if they get to Quebec, landing a professional position would be difficult.  I offered to give a little seminar on interviewing Canadian style and to have a look at Jorge’s resume.

We met again on Saturday morning at McDonald’s – (Wi-Fi),  I hope I was able to offer some useful suggestions and I promised them I would try and find them someone to practice speaking with.

So, if you can Skype – download takes about 3 minutes and it is all free.  If  you can speak conversational French, talk about your day, their day, politics, anything to get their speed up and for them to learn the idioms that are so hard to master in a new language.  Maybe you know a high school kid, or maybe a class that would like to learn Spanish?  – they offered to reciprocate the favour by teaching or coaching in Spanish.  Let me know and we can make change in the world, maybe two persons at a time.

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Stephanie Dea (formerly Hunt) on

HI Deb,

I am so gratefu to read your travel escapades and maybe one day If I get the courage, I would love to catch up with you. I would be happy to try skyping with your friends in French. My French is more western canadian than quebecois, with some France French from university. I'm not French Canadian, but attended a French school for francophones since I was 3 yrs old to grade 12. it's been awhile, but I would be happy to converse with your friends, and have been told as recently as 2 yrs ago from my French prof (from France actually) , that my pronunciation was excellent;( he thought I was a francophone). and I will keep a look out for a native quebec speaker for your friends as well. Please note my new email address and last name change. much love, Stephanie

Hilary Ramsey on

I love how you take time for the "ones" you encounter!!!

Nancy on

Hi Deb- This is an amazing yet sad and frustrating story. Alex speaks excellent French, but not Quebec French- but I will forward this to her! You are my hero.

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