When we left Fort McMurray we had no idea where we were going. We are relative newcomers to the city, living there just over a year. We had yet to venture beyond the city limits and, except for visits to Gregoire Park, communities outside Fort Mac were new to us. At one time in my life the unfamiliar would have created a lot of anxiety , but I am older now, more experienced and more open to new ideas and new people.  However, fleeing a fire does not give opportunities to get to know people, or to explore new towns and cities. In our race to safety our priorities were basic: food, water, and shelter.

Crises brings out both the best and the worst in humanity. We were very fortunate. I met many good souls along the way. People I would have liked to get to know better, had the circumstances been different. I hold these people in my thoughts and wish them well. For others, the level of stress was overwhelming and brought out their less than stellar personality traits. Over 90,000 people were evacuated from the city. As we drove down the highway traffic was thick and many gas stations had run out of fuel. Fortunately our friends had a full tank of gas and we were able to eventually find a station that still had fuel. The innate need for flight from danger made for short tempers and a tense situation. Our friend’s son was also travelling with us in another vehicle, but was running low on fuel. Our friend had a jerry can he was filling for his son after filling his tank when a man approached, yelling at us that other people needed fuel and denigrating my friend for what he perceived to be his selfishness. We were towing a 5th wheel camper, our temporary home and the man gestured wildly at the truck and camper. We were all exhausted and coping with high levels of stress, as I am sure the stranger also was. Fortunately our friend remained calm and did not engage this fellow or argue with him and the stranger stomped away.

The hostility left us all a bit shaken.As we drove away I complimented our friend on the way he handled the situation. Once again I could not help thinking of refugees and the hostility they encounter.  I have overheard racist remarks and insults leveled at new Canadians. The encounter with the stranger at the gas station made me realize how often we make assumptions that are totally off-base and wrong. However, this encounter was far exceeded by the kindness and compassion of strangers along the way.  I hope that is the case for the vast percentage of newcomers to Canada.

 

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