Humans of Riverside: OMAR’s Story

“I was raised by a single mom who showed us how to be together despite our differences. And, as with my family in Afghanistan, I believe we can be strong and successful when we put aside our differences and work together.” 

Omar Barakzay

Business Owner, Pizzaiolo in Riverside

His Story:

My story begins in Kabul, Afghanistan. As a child, I grew up in a country that was peaceful. Like many other children around the world, I went to school, played soccer with my friends after school and visited family members. It was as normal a life as anyone could ask for.

But all this changed in 1991 when the Mujahideen took over the Afghanistan government and the tribal war began. Many families lost their loved ones and I lost close friends who I had gone to school with, played soccer with and whose families were friends with mine.

My family and I were stuck in our basement for six months during the war. We barely had enough to eat but invited many of our neighbors to stay with us because our basement was safer from rocket attacks and thieves at nights. For six months we helped each other to survive and we got to know the true meaning of family as we huddled together, helping each  other to survive the evil we faced.

Finally, we managed to escape into the darkness one night. It was 1 a.m., the sky was moonless and there were dead bodies everywhere. We all ran together and stayed together, leaving no one behind. We survived by staying together and believing in each other.

Today, we face many challenges due to COVID-19 and some of us have lost our jobs, businesses and loved ones. It’s sad, but we believe that after every darkness there is light.

In Canada, we are of different colours, we come from different cultures, have different religious practices and political views, but it is time to put our differences behind and to become one family.

We have a saying in Afghanistan: “You have five fingers and all of them are brothers, but they are different.”

If you make a fist with your five fingers, they become one and strong. The moral of this is that we need to become one and support our communities, our cities, and our country.

Now is the time to care for one another to survive for the future.

Making Space: Art by Bareket Kezwer and Yshmael Cabana accompanying Omar's story on the Queen St window at 1 Munro Street

Making Space: Art by Bareket Kezwer and Yshmael Cabana accompanying Omar’s story on the Queen St window at 1 Munro Street

About the Humans of Riverside: Giving Voice and Making Space for BIPOC” Storytelling Series:

The Riverside BIA – located along Toronto’s Queen Street East from the iconic bridge over the Don River to just past De Grassi St – is proud to celebrate diversity and inclusiveness with this story-telling series.

The project launched in summer 2020 as part of the Main Street Art Challenge and collaborated with writer and editor Grace Cameron, artists Bareket Kezwer ( @bkez ) and Yshmael Cabana (@_yshyshysh) to bring public art and launch this story-telling series in partnership with local businesses in the Riverside BIA. This project is supported by @STEPSInitiative as part of their Main Street Art Challenge. The story-telling project gives physical space in storefront windows for BIPOC artists, and gives voice to stories from local BIPOC community members in Riverside. Each piece of art and each story shared has a bigger meaning that connects to the local business/window and to the BIPOC community member by sharing a link/QR code to their full story online. The Main Street Art Challenge brings this new and ongoing storytelling series to life, and the art produced for the challenge will continue to live virtually beyond the Main Street Art Challenge as part of the ongoing ‘Humans of Riverside‘ storytelling initiative.