James Akam can now check “Enjoy a Molson Canadian” off his patriotic to-do list.
Add that to the Tim Hortons coffee he had after landing at Pearson airport Friday and his phone chat with hockey legend Don Cherry moments later.
The 29-year-old former interpreter who risked his life alongside our troops in his native Afghanistan is getting a handle on this whole Life in Canada thing.
“I definitely feel free,” James said during his first full day in Canada.
We had lunch at a Moxie’s restaurant in Mississauga and reflected on all that’s happened to him since he fled Afghanistan more than a year ago with hopes of building a better life for his family.
Thanks to Canada, he said, “I made it here and now I just have to hope that my application to bring my wife and son from Afghanistan will be processed quickly.”
It needs to be. His wife and five-year-old boy are still hiding from the Taliban.
His brother Nick, also a former interpreter who worked with Canada’s troops in Afghanistan, arrived from Calgary Saturday afternoon. He drove all night from Marathon, Ont., 1,100 km away on the north shore of Lake Superior, to see James for the first time in six years.
The brothers wasted little time before talking about what’s next for James.
“I may be going to Calgary or I may stay in Toronto. We are going to meet with some people on Monday and whatever city has the most job opportunities is where I will likely stay,” James said. “My brother loves Calgary and is doing well there, but I know that there may be more employment here, so we’ll see how it works out. Either way, I’m in Canada and I’m happy about that.”
James also reflected on his time on the battlefields of Afghanistan with our troops from 2008-2011, including the carnage they witnessed, and his months-long journey to escape the Taliban’s wrath, much of it on foot across Europe, before arriving at a refugee camp near Frankfurt, Germany, where he was stuck for months as he waited to be accepted to Canada.
“I could’ve died and lots of people have died, so I am thankful,” he said.
“I slept in the forest (between Macedonia and Serbia) and saw lots of dead bodies, but I kept going.”
His first priority is getting his family safely out of Afghanistan and out of the Taliban’s reach.
He also plans to look at what trades or other work opportunities are available to him, including possibly working again with the Canadian Armed Forces or the Canadian government as an interpreter.
“I would be proud to join the Canadian Forces because I am so proud to have served with them already,” he said.
Freedom is a wonderful thing, especially for someone who knows what it’s like to live without it.
When the Moxies server named Eos asked him what he would like to order, James said: “Molson Canadian and some chicken wings,” because after all, “I am in Canada and I am free to do so.”