Although it took place in a classroom, this wasn’t a regular class – “Salaam B’y — The Story of a Muslim Newfoundlander” was an inspiring learning experience, presented by Clarenville’s own Aatif Baskanderi.
Aided by a Powerpoint presentation, MUN alumni Baskanderi recalled his action-packed life, starting with his family’s big move to the small town of Clarenville.
While many view small towns as “culturally cloistered,” as CBC’s Zach Goudie noted in his intro, these views are not always true. This was the case for the Baskanderi family, who was welcomed with open arms and felt an immediate sense of belonging in the town.
Baskanderi detailed his idyllic childhood, which sounded much like my own – picking blueberries in the hills, riding my bicycle to what seemed like the ends of the Earth, where the ocean met the rocks.
The town of Clarenville “absolutely embraced and empowered” Baskanderi. Though the family moved around the country during his school years, Clarenville was always “home.”
He credited his Newfoundland upbringing as a highly positive influence on his personality, including his friendliness and ability to make friends wherever he went.
This friendliness would lend itself well to Baskanderi’s life works, as he travelled around the world.
On this cold, isolated island, Baskanderi had learned sincerity and appreciation for other cultures, which allowed him to connect with any person, from any place, and unite with them to work towards a common goal.
His educational background in social policy and engineering were put to work as he travelled, helping augment the quality of life in the countries he was working in, such as the U.K., Sierra Leone, and Palestine.
In post-civil war Sierra Leone, he found a social setting that resounded within him – “a united society of people who were always kind to each other.” It was reminiscent of Newfoundland, in some ways, he said.
Baskanderi’s humanitarian endeavours would eventually connect him with his now-wife, Nazia. He was quick to note that “Newfoundland made the man she loved.” Their Bangladeshi-Pakistani-Newfoundlander wedding even featured a Buddywasisname tune.
Accompanying her husband on his 10-day speaking tour, which stopped into seven communities across the province, Nazia learned first-hand about the island, and in turn, her partner’s deep love and appreciation for his province.
“Newfoundland ingrained in me these valued that allowed me to take on the world,” Baskanderi said. “As soon as we got here, we were Newfoundlanders.”
Though he can’t smell the salt air from his current home in Calgary, where he works for the not-for-profit Innovate Calgary, Aatif Baskanderi — a brown-skinned, Muslim man born to Pakistani parents — is one of the proudest Newfoundlanders I have ever met.
If you missed Baskanderi’s speaking tour, keep an eye out and ear open for the upcoming documentary focused on the tour, and Baskanderi’s life experiences.